Routines Versus Demand Feeding

RoutinesVersusDemandHaving discovered the baby wars being waged online between mother-experts advocating differing methods for feeding and sleeping, I have decided it would be useful to review the information and experience I have so far with one of the hotly contested controversies, to help me, and anyone who happens across this post, to decide what might work best for them. So here it is; a critique of routines, including sleep training, versus demand feeding.


This review of self-settling routines is based on the recommendations in Tizzy Hall’s book Save our Sleep. When my best friend was pregnant, her grandma’s advice to her which she passed onto me and has become a mantra of sorts was simply; ‘baby is not boss’. Tizzy Hall’s methods follow this mantra in that they are more about parent training than baby training, and can therefore be categorised as ‘parent-led’.

My sister has a 13 week old baby and she has found Tizzy’s routines to be a god send so far. She has been dream-feeding her baby son (feeding while he sleeps) at 10:30pm at night and then he’s been sleeping through until 7:00am most mornings. Sometimes her husband does the dream-feed with expressed milk in a bottle (Tizzy encourages expressing from week 1) and so all in all, my sister has had an incredibly painless newborn experience. Her son is healthy and is growing before our eyes and he is a happy, laughing, pleasure of a baby. The ability for her husband to help with feeding has given her the chance to have full nights of sleep and she can go out in the evening without her baby, which is fantastic for her mental health. You can see why I am therefore trying to emulate her success with my little one and have been reading Save our Sleep to work out its secrets.

Tizzy’s routines include sleep-training methods which encourage parents to learn how to teach their baby to self-settle. Self-settling is refraining from picking up baby when baby protests – usually fighting against going to sleep. But when baby actually cries, you do intervene because there’s some reason they are crying that needs the parents’ attention. You quickly learn the difference between protesting (whinging) and crying. I have already after just a few days. And if baby does cry, you solve the problem (usually hunger) and then baby settles itself back to sleep. It’s a miracle to watch!

Tizzy does not encourage controlled-crying, but rather wants the parents to self-settle from as young as possible so not to get into sleep-habits that then need to be broken through controlled-crying once the baby is older. Habits that eventually need to be broken and can be upsetting for the child once they are withdrawn include any method of parent-intervention needed to get the baby to stop crying and go to sleep, such as rocking, feeding to sleep, being patted, or driven around the block 100 times in the car every night. Tizzy’s philosophy is that if you get all your ducks lined up prior to a sleep, there is no reason the baby can’t be put down for long stretches, and that when the baby wakes through normal 45 minute sleep cycles, they can self-settle without the parents’ help. Ducks lined up means enough milk, burping done, baby is warm or cool enough and with a clean nappy. Tizzy believes that babies like routines because they always know what is coming next – whether it be a sleep, a feed, a bath or playtime. And by training them to feed at approximately the same time every day, they get used to feeding enough to get them through to the next scheduled feed.

Of great importance in Tizzy’s suggested routines are the 7:00am start to the day and the 7:00pm bedtime, as well as a pre-bedtime routine that includes a bath and feed. Tizzy recommends demand-feeding overnight for the first few weeks until baby’s stomach is big enough to sustain a longer overnight sleep so her method is actually a mixture of flexible routines during the day and demand feeding at night until the baby is old enough to sleep for more routine, longer periods. So eventually the feeds give the baby more breastmilk or formula, and the sleeps get longer, and low and behold baby, and importantly, family gets a good night’s sleep. Bliss!

One of the things that makes the routines attractive to me (apart from the long sleeps I will get!) is that from the start of a child’s life, your partner can get to know the routines and can assist where he can so that the pressure isn’t solely on the mother to attend to the child’s every need. The health of the relationship between mother and father is important, and the other members of the household such as older siblings who also need their parents’ attention. So too is it useful, in my opinion, for people like me who like to be organised and have some predictability to their day, to know what is coming next; what time of the day they might be available to do things that aren’t 100% all about the baby, such as having visitors over, going to appointments, spending time with their partner, family and friends without a screaming baby or a baby on the boob, and eventually to go back to work. Having enough sleep is also important, particularly when you go back to work. And generally for a new mum’s mental health, getting as much sleep as possible is good for your health – both physical and mental.

In the first two weeks of my baby’s life, we’ve been vaguely aiming for the ‘first two weeks’ schedule that Tizzy recommends, including expressing at regular intervals to build up milk supply for growth spurts and to try out bottle feeding to get baby used to being fed by someone other than me. Things are working well so far. Our daughter is demanding a feed every 2 – 4 hours at night and settles herself to sleep fairly quickly after, seemingly understanding that it is night-time. The daytime sleeps are a little harder – she is often wide-eyed awake after she’s been fed and sometimes needs to be pushed in her pram to get her to sleep which isn’t the ideal self-settling scenario. But overall she’s feeding really well and once asleep, she sleeps soundly through numerous 45 minute sleep cycles and wakes close to the suggested next feed time. So I’m fairly happy with this self-setting, routine trial in these very early days.

In my opinion, as long as you use the routines as a rough guide to aim for, and don’t try too hard to force your child into the patterns which may end up just stressing you and the baby out, there are enough benefits to the routine method for me to recommend it as worth a try.

Demand Feeding

Demand feeding is baby-led free-style parenting as compared to routines which are parent-led. Basically the philosophy behind demand feeding is that you wait for your child to let you know when they are hungry and then you feed them immediately, wherever or whenever they want it. In the first few weeks of a baby’s life, they need to be fed 8 – 12 times a day and take a long time to feed, sometimes up to an hour. Some newborns, especially premature babies, need to be woken to be fed as they’re not old enough to ‘demand’ food when they need it. As babies get older, the ones who are demand fed might fall into longer feed routines where they can go a few hours without food, or they might snack their way throughout the day and night, feeding possibly every 1 – 2 hours, or numerous times in a short period. For this reason, mothers of babies who demand feed, whether they are breast-feeding or using formula, need to be ready to pop a boob or bottle into the child’s mouth at a moment’s notice day and night.

There are no doubt some babies who are demand fed who fall into their own routines of sorts, feeding at patterns that are similar each day and this would make demand feeding a lot easier. I also understand that you can demand feed and also let your baby self-settle whenever they are tired so you don’t have to spend hours helping baby get to sleep. But I assume there are also babies who never fall into such a pattern and therefore their mothers might be feeding them on and off day and night and settling them to sleep at random intervals between feeds, which for me sounds like a really difficult experience.

I’ve seen many comments from demand-feeding mothers online who say it’s perfectly natural for a baby to demand feed, or snack, at random intervals throughout the day, because just like adults, they want to eat when they’re hungry, not just on a schedule. This strikes me as an odd analogy however, as I don’t know many adults who snack throughout the day, but rather most people I know eat three main meals a day and learn to eat enough in each meal to get them to the next one without needing a snack in-between. I see no reason why a baby can’t be taught to eat enough at each feed to ensure they’re not hungry for a few hours, so encouraging short-snacking-like feeds is another problem that I see with demand-feeding.

One of the other challenges of demand feeding that I would also find quite daunting is knowing why your baby is crying and not just assuming it’s for hunger. With routines, when your baby cries, it’s fairly easy to predict that they are hungry or tired based on what is coming up next in the schedule. But if you’re demand feeding, there’s a risk that you’ll put the baby on your boob or give them a bottle every time they cry, assuming they are demanding food, when in actual fact they’re not hungry and just need their nappy changed, or are tired, or hot or cold. Then you might find yourself in a pattern of using food to settle your baby, which could become a habit that is difficult to break as the child gets older. You might also find that your baby starts to use your nipple as comfort, when they’re not actually hungry so they might suck away for hours at a time, as if your boob is a pacifier, which leaves you and the baby stuck in one spot for hours when the baby really should just be asleep and you getting on with your day or your own sleep. Advocates of attached parenting, which is another whole kettle of fish, would say that it’s perfectly natural for you to be literally attached to your child all day every day. But for me, this sounds like a prison sentence and I don’t think would be good for my mental health.

Along with snacking, the other risk of demand feeding is that you’ll encourage short sleeps, or naps, and therefore your child will snack and nap all day and night, never feeding long enough to sustain a longer sleep, and waking after cat naps to be fed again in what sounds to me like a nightmare newborn cycle of pain and sleep deprivation for everyone.

Yesterday my two-week old daughter and I attempted our first social outing for a friend’s baby shower. The lunch started at 1:00pm and I was quite nervous about how I was going to cope with the rough routine I’ve been trying so I basically gave up on it for a day and let my baby go without a proper feed or sleep for the whole afternoon. In fact we managed the social outing fine; my baby lay awake in her pram bassinette all the way through her usual sleep time. She wasn’t fussing, but it was clear she was overstimulated and had become too tired to self-settle. When she did eventually start to cry, which was unluckily right when my lunch arrived, I breast fed her and she fell asleep quite quickly on my boob. So I put her down again and she was wide awake in her bassinette for a little while until she cried again. Next I tried changing her nappy and put her back on the boob, where she again fell asleep before she had a proper feed. By the time I took her home, she was so overtired that I knew the usual evening bath and feed routine was ruined. We gave her a bottle of expressed milk and she was still too overtired to sleep. Then she filled three nappies in close succession and three nappy changes later I was at my wits’ end wondering if she would ever sleep again. My husband and I took turns pushing her around the living room in her pram bassinette and 90 minutes later she was asleep, way past her bedtime. It was a horrible experience, and showed me that the rough routine we had been using was actually working much better than we thought as she hadn’t been overtired before then, nor starving, nor having multiple nappy changes in a short period. So this short trial of demand-feeding, and letting baby decide when she does what, drove me even more determinedly back to the relative ease of the self-settling routine.

From what I have researched online, mothers who demand feed find that they get to spend a lot of quality cuddle time with their babies, which does sound like an attractive benefit of this method. The routine method is quite strict about how much awake time the baby has, and although there is play time put aside in the routine, it’s more focussed on trying to get the baby to feed when it’s awake and not to spend time cuddling just because you enjoy it. Personally I enjoy breast feeding because that’s time I get to spend with my baby while she’s awake, but I can see that I would get more of this quality time if I was demand feeding. So by choosing a routine, this is one aspect of motherhood which will be less of a benefit for me.

In summary, I have chosen the routine with self-settling method and will stick at it while I still feel that there is enough benefit in it for me, my baby and my family. I’ll keep you updated on this blog about how this turns out for all of us!


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