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 BabyRabies.com), 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! :)):