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Both Sides: Led By Baby

Jamie and Krista agree on many things, but sometimes they have different opinions on parenting. This is the second post in a two-part series on routine vs. on demand. Be sure to read Jamie’s post, “Both Sides:  Parent Guided Routines”.

The first days of parenting are so strange.  It almost feels like a dream, for more reasons than the fact that you are staring into the face of the child you have been dreaming of for at least nine months.  You may have read every parenting book ever written, but suddenly you’re completely responsible for another human and you have no idea what to do.  How do I change this diaper without getting peed on?  How am I going to get a shower today?  How will I make and eat my dinner?  How do I get it to sleep?!

If you’re anything like me, all of the excellent advice you’ve received from friends, books, family, online forums, and even strangers runs through your head during those moments of helpless panic like one of those news crawlers on 24/7  news channels.  Put a washcloth over his pee-pee, sources say…Wait until naptime, according to your great-aunt Mabel…Sleep when the baby sleeps, says the well-meaning woman at the grocery store. It’s enough to make even the most level-headed mother question her instincts and feel completely bewildered.  Now what?  How do you make this new reality work?

For me, the decision about whether to adopt a schedule (or routine) for my children or to feed “on demand” came by listening to my gut.  Much like our decision to co-sleep with our kids, it wasn’t anything where my husband and I sat down with a Pros and Cons list, it just happened.  When the baby was hungry, he was fed.  When he needed comforting, he was nursed and snuggled.

I’m not big on labels in parenting (for a great post on this, see “My Take On Mother Madness & 10 Things That Might Help It” at, but feeding on demand is one of the hallmarks of attachment parenting.  I don’t claim to be a devoted attachment parenting mama, but there are few things from the philosophy that ring true to me.  Co-sleeping (for a time) and feeding on demand are two of them.  I am choosing to refer to feeding “on demand” instead as feeding that is led by baby.

Because breastfeeding isn’t solely for nutrition, my boys were regularly nursed in addition to times when they were hungry (the traditional 2-3 hours).  Yes, that means that they were nursed to sleep many times during the early months.  This is where my love of co-sleeping comes in.  There are few things sweeter to me than lying next to a precious sleeping baby who can reach out and know that his mother is near.  Sharing a bed with our boys made it easy to be led by baby’s feeding needs.  Our children have both eventually learned to sleep on their own, in their own bed.  (Side note:  At a later age, we believe in using a controlled crying approach to help them sleep independently, but that doesn’t come until close to their first birthday.  See what I mean about not being a true attachment parenting mama?)

Rather than being led by what comes next, we look at what the boys need then.  We watch for cues that they are hungry, need cuddles, are ready for a nap, are over-stimulated, or bored and meet the need as best we can.  I believe one reason this type of feeding/sleeping worked for our family is that our schedules can be very different on every day of the week.  We are pretty much go with the flow people, so if an opportunity comes up we need to be able to take it.  Letting baby lead allows us to go out on a shopping trip even if the baby usually takes a nap then.  Our kids (especially our firstborn) have always been very “portable” kids, and I attribute this in part to not really following a routine.

I will say that the idea of the Baby Whisperer’s Eat, Activity, Sleep, You Time routine is appealing and I tried to maintain it somewhat, but it just didn’t feel natural for me.  It didn’t bother me if the boys fell asleep while nursing — if they were too tired for awake time or activity, then obviously it’s time to sleep.  And I know that even people who follow schedules or routines don’t always follow them rigidly, but like I said, it just didn’t feel natural.  My boys got (and still get) plenty of food, activity, and sleep and I even got/get Me Time.  Sleep deprivation happens whether you use a rigid routine or if you let baby lead (or if you’re somewhere in between) — it’s parenting, it happens sometimes!  (Or maybe I’m just too lazy to follow through on a schedule?  Maybe, maybe not…I’m too lazy to argue with you about it.)

I don’t have a list of things that following this type of feeding philosophy is or isn’t, because it’s going to be different for everyone who chooses to be led by their child.  It will look differently depending on you and your family.  Some moms might pump breastmilk, others might always nurse.  Some moms might co-sleep and other might not.

The bottom line for me is that even without a book to guide us, we can all figure it out.  Maybe you solely read your child’s cues for their needs, maybe you have a schedule in the truest sense of the word (like an alarm set on your phone), maybe you’re somewhere in between.  As I read Jamie’s post the other day, I feel like we aren’t too far apart in our philosophies because at the end of the day, we’re taking care of our babies in the way that feels right for each of us.  Led by baby, led by routine, you’ll be led to what is best for you and your family.  Don’t form your parenting based on what a book says, because if it doesn’t feel right for you, it probably isn’t.

How did you handle this in your family?  How did you get there (trial and error, choosing and pushing through)?  What questions do you have about demand or baby-led feeding?

A great read on attachment parenting (that isn’t black/white and all shades of critical) from Dr. Sears can be found here:  What AP is: 7 Baby B’s

New!  Adding two more links about co-sleeping on 7/8/11 at 10:12am (I didn’t intend for this to turn into a co-sleeping debate…we already did that! :)):

Elizabeth Pantley: “Is it safe to sleep with my baby?”

SIDS:  The Latest Research on How Sleeping With Your Baby is Safe from

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About Krista

Krista is a full-time working mom of two boys, currently aged 6 and 7. She lives in Kentucky with her husband, Brandon.


  1. Sleeping with the baby is easier for parents, but dangerous for the baby. It has led to an increase infant deaths. When comes to parenting, an infant’s safety should come first. Place a bassinet close to your bed.

  2. Carla, I will respectfully disagree with you. Simple bed-sharing is not dangerous. When parents are unfit for sharing a bed (due to alcohol or drug use or are known to sleep too deeply), they should refrain from sleeping with their baby.

    I invite you check out this great article from Dr. Sears on safe co-sleeping and the research:

  3. After reading both opinions, I have to say I fall somewhere in the middle. My biggest mommy rule has always been never wake a sleeping baby. I would never ever wake up a baby just because it had been X number of hours since eating, which means I am more baby lead. However, my babies both thrived on a routine, especially when they got closer to 6 months. When we set up a good routine, I didn’t have to worry about timing, what they needed coincided with what “time” it was.
    As for co-sleeping, it is just not for us, but I do understand why parents do it. It does scare me personally, as a former paramedic, I saw first hand a case that did not end well. (Mom and Dad were both seemingly fit to sleep with baby, no drugs, alcohol, etc.) However, this should be entirely each parents choice and never dictacted as being safe or unsafe, right or wrong by one another 🙂

  4. The biggest misconception about co-sleeping is that it *causes* SIDS. That’s simply untrue. SIDS is unexplained, we have no idea what causes it. There is a risk of a baby being smothered or tangled, but there are things that parents can do to minimize this risk. Studies also show that parents who co-sleep and breastfeed are incredibly aware of their babies well-being and movement while they sleep. The benefits of co-sleeping are many and can’t be overlooked.

  5. Krista, did you use a co sleeper our any other “equipment” for night time? Where did your boys nap? I had no idea about the two schools of thought on parenting until I had Jack and was pounced upon by some friends that were sold on baby wise. After reading everything and asking lots of Mommy friends, I found myself pretty much in the middle. Jack slept in my room for three months in a bassinet, and once he was sleeping through the night, I moved him to his room. We never did any crying it out bc I just wasn’t comfortable with it. I loved wearing Jack in my sling but he was also very happy in his stroller or bouncer. I liked the idea of a routine, but what I found was Jack had his own routine. When I was trying to fit him into the schedule in the books I read, I was frustrated. It was when I went back to work (4 mo old) and Joey was with him all day that I really noticed HIS routine. I guess I couldn’t see it for all the book knowledge I had accumulated…lol. His naps were shorter, and he needed more of them. After a week or so of just watching, I saw that he had a well established internal routine that I had been fighting. I did really love some of the tips I got from the baby whisperer particularly about sleeping/napping. It helped us get through some bumpy spots and gave me somewhere to reference when I felt lost. All in all, I found out that it came down to knowing my baby, even when implementing a routine. 🙂

  6. I think that’s awesome, Lacy!

    Both boys have napped pretty much everywhere – baby carrier/wrap, swing/bouncer, bed with me, crib, Pack n Play, bassinet…seriously, everywhere. I think that helps keep them portable 🙂

    At nighttime, we had a pack n play next to the bed and we tried side-carring the crib at one point but couldn’t get it to work. So I just had them lay next to me, no pillow, sheets tucked around my waist.

  7. Here something a little more current that sites co sleeping as a risk factor.
    Alarming spike in number of sudden infant deaths
    BC Thompson Nicola
    By Jeremy Deutsch – Kamloops This Week
    Published: July 06, 2011 6:00 PM
    It’s every new parent’s worst nightmare — a child falls asleep for the night and never wakes up.
    There’s no reason, no cause and no one to blame.
    Though sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is very rare, there has been an alarming spike in the number of cases in the province.
    According to the B.C. Coroners Service child death review unit, there were 21 sudden infant deaths in the first half of 2011, compared to 16 in all of 2010.
    The spike has prompted the coroners service to urge parents to educate themselves on safe sleep practices in an effort to minimize the risk of SIDS.
    Sudden infant deaths occur when a previously healthy baby dies in sleep-related circumstances and no cause of death is found in an autopsy.
    “The challenge is that we don’t really know why these babies die,” B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe told KTW.
    Some factors that increase the risk of SIDS include placing a baby on his or her stomach or side, having babies sleep on soft surfaces, having soft objects in the sleep environment, having a baby share a bed with an adult and exposing a baby to cigarette smoke during and after pregnancy.
    The chief coroner noted in 11 of the 21 cases, the baby was sleeping in an adult bed and, in 10 cases, they were sharing a bed with an adult
    Half of the adults sharing a bed with a baby had consumed alcohol prior to the death.
    “That’s a huge risk factor,” said Lapointe, adding that, in some cases , none of the risk factors were evident and the baby still died.
    The coroner recommends babies sleep in a separate crib with a firm mattress and fitted sheet.
    She said toys and blankets should be kept away from the child’s face.
    The coroners service will also be working with Ministry of Health officials, health-care workers and First Nations communities to share the information and provide information for parents.
    Kamloops pediatrician Trent Smith said he’s not sure what to make of the sudden jump in SIDS cases, noting the rate has been cut in half in Canada in the last 20 years.

  8. “Half of the adults sharing a bed with a baby had consumed alcohol prior to the death.
    “That’s a huge risk factor,” said Lapointe, adding that, in some cases , none of the risk factors were evident and the baby still died.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t he calling sleeping with a baby after consuming alcohol a huge risk? Not just sleeping with the baby, it’s the alcohol consumption AND sleeping with baby.

    I get what you’re saying, but no one knows the reasons behinds SIDS deaths. There is plenty of evidence that co-sleeping can be safe.

  9. I really enjoyed reading this Krista! This is what we did with our first. I enjoyed nursing her to sleep, all the cuddles, and it felt natural to me. But when we had the twins the next time around, it felt different. I was exhauseted trying to do that while nursing 2 infants and still make time for a needy 3 year old. This is when I switched over to a routine with the boys. I wasn’t very rigid, and still got plenty of cuddles, but the boys ate and slept at pretty much the same time everyday, and they weren’t in our bed like Kaylie. And I totally agree, that what is right is what feels and works best for your family. It’s different for each family and sometimes each child. Thanks for this topic between you and Jamie.

  10. I have enjoyed the two articles. I almost think I do both. My parenting style started out so different with Nathan than it was with Grace. Everyone told us we had to live on a schedule and if we didn’t we weren’t as good of parents as others. But, you try living on a rigid schedule while being in youth ministry and staying involved in the ministry. It just doesn’t work. I decided to do what worked for us and people could think whatever they wanted and now both kids are extremely flexible. With Grace, it was very much baby-led. She went with us everywhere and did everything. We didn’t put her on any kind of schedule and just nursed her when she was hungry and let her sleep when she was tired. She slept in her own room from day one and was sleeping though the night by 8 weeks. Nathan has naturally gotten on a 3 hour schedule and co-slept with us for 4 months. I loved our co-sleeping and know my son is as safe sleeping next to me as he is in his own bed. There are “risks” to everything, but my son is not at risk being close to his mother! He is sleeping through the night now, but when he does wake up in the middle of the night, he comes right back to my side and is there until we get up in the morning. I don’t think it’s for everyone, some parents can’t handle co-sleeping or it may be more of a “risk”, but it’s no risk at all for us.
    God has given us all instincts and brains to know what is best for our little ones whom He has placed in our care. There are different methods or ways of going about it, but one is not right over the other, it’s just a matter of looking at what is right for you, your own family and the situation you are in.

  11. Very well said, Laura!

  12. Krista, I agree with you that you and Jamie are really quite similar in your approaches. You’re doing the same thing, really — finding what works for YOUR baby. It’s your babies who are different! I tried various routines and schedules (though I always nursed when he needed or wanted to), but nothing seemed to work for my son, and that is still the case. He’s a go-with-the-flow child, and I’ve stopped fighting it. He and I are both so much happier now.