After mom has been pregnant for just a little while, this question will almost certainly come up. It’s like the black hole of baby-having: everyone feels inextricably attracted to ask and then answer this question, probably because it is often the foray into parenting philosophy. If you didn’t have a philosophy when you got pregnant (and most people don’t!), then you surely will now!
The scheduling controversy is awful because it polarizes people into two philosophical camps–demand-feeding versus scheduled feeding. There seems to be no in between, and the two positions are painted in opposite colors like soldiers ready to fire. Then those two camps have corollaries you should follow in order to be philosophically consistent: family bed versus crib, sling versus swing, and breast versus bottle. Whereas before, these types of choices would have seemed neutral, now they are colored with the shades of white or black according to your scheduling choice and lined up like little ducks (read: soldiers) in a row.
Now that we’ve gone through four babies (and had four different types of eaters), I wonder why it has to be this way. Are experts just vying for disciples? Or are they really afraid you won’t feed your baby right? I admit as a first time mom, I definitely didn’t know much. But it is hard for me to believe I would have let my baby starve. Or kept feeding him every two hours if he’d gotten big and blubbery! But common sense is not of fashion nowadays, and make no mistake about it, your practical approach to parenting is not going to survive in this dog-eat-dog world either–unless by some miracle, you decide to stay away from all parenting books, small groups where parents would meet, and pediatricians.
So, to put my own stake in the ground, I have largely schedule fed each of our four babies. I found it provided a lot of stability and security. But I didn’t schedule feed because I needed order as much as I needed to be sure I was meeting everyone’s needs appropriately. I needed to know that when my baby was crying after I had fed him, it meant he needed something else (like a nap or a toy) rather than more food. Since my milk supply was not so great as my other friends’, I also needed to preserve milk. Fill up, then dispense out! I tried some demand-feeding with my fourth baby to see if I would actually make more milk, and it didn’t work for me. At eight months old, I still felt insecure about it and she didn’t give any signs that she was doing better than the other four. So I switched back and started supplementing a little.
So I am a big believer in routine feedings as a general rule. And it did stabilize my four little eater’s radically diverse feeding needs. It allowed me to meet all their needs in a routine that suited our family (i.e. my first baby fed every three hours, my second every four, my third every three and a half, and my fourth every two and a half). Everybody slept through the night as babies (i.e. my first baby at four or five months, my second at six weeks, my third at eight weeks, and my fourth at six months). But if there was any real sign that this wasn’t good for them, I would have switched. And obviously since I supplement, I do not believe that a spoonful of pears and Gerber or a little Enfamil mixed in some milk makes you an Evil Parent! I am not two-faced, I am PRACTICAL!
Not that I believe philosophy is bad, or that you should have an inconsistent one. To the contrary, I am a strong believer in knowing what you’re doing before you start, and taking a consistent path. However, I am also a firm believer that the motivations of parenting matter a whole lot more than the tools. Simply put, the choices of bed, crib, sling, swing, breast, bottle, etc., are a lot more neutral in themselves than the heart thoughts, hopes, fears, and habits that drive you to make the choices you do.
Most new moms I talk to about this issue have their heart issues surface quickly. They breastfeed because someone else has told them they should, they are afraid if they do/don’t, or they are in love with the idea. These are nice reasons, but they don’t make the decision for you. You could say the same thing for bottle-feeding parents: someone else has told them they should, they are afraid if they do/don’t, or they are in love with the idea. The fact that the ideals, fears, desires you have make this decision should show you it is normally a decision made by feeling. And there is nothing wrong with making a decision by feeling as long as you realize it is by FEELING rather than because it is a religion that you must follow or else die! Some moms really think this way! They believe they should breastfeed so badly that when they hate it or the baby can’t do it, they hang on and continue to be miserable. Or they tell their friend who hates it or can’t do it that they just need to join La Leche and hang on! I always tell my friends personally, “I mostly breastfed and believe in it. But you need to go where God’s peace is. Follow the peace.”
Because in the end, your child is probably not going to be damaged by your choice. But he or she can be damaged by your heart (fears, desires, etc). If you demand-feed, that doesn’t harm your baby in itself, but it will if you are feeding on demand because you are afraid of your baby crying and the anxiety that provokes in you. If you schedule-feed, that doesn’t harm your baby in itself, but it will if you are watching the clock because you don’t feel bonded or engaged with your baby to tune into his/her personal needs for some more attention. Or because you are afraid he or she will have a bad relationship with food if you feed too much. These bad heart motives cause you to take the vehicle (the choice) down the wrong road.
After four babies, I have found that because of this fact, it is easier to be a “centrist” when it comes to choices you make. In fact, you can make lots of them and mish-mash them all together! Use BOTH a schedule and a child-directed feeding routine at times, BOTH sling and a swing (if the baby likes it), BOTH breastfeed and bottle if necessary, and so on. The idea that you have to choose one religion or the other based on how you want to feed is silly. You should always do what works for the combination of both you, as the parent, and the baby, as the receiver of your parenting. And, take into the pragmatic factors of your household–husband, other kids–as well.
Smile! There is no religion for you to follow!