3 Mainstream Feeding Philosophies – Which Fits Your Family Best?

3 Mainstream Feeding Philosophies - Which Fits Your Family Best? | GrowingUpHerbal.com
Photo Credit: MuddyBootsPhoto via Compfight cc

Demand feeding, hyperscheduling, cry feeding, natural feeding, rigid feeding, responsive feeding, self-regulating feeding, cue feeding, parent-directed feeding… do you know what all of these are and which feeding philosophy will work best for you and your new little one? 

What?! You didn’t know there were that many different kinds of feeding philosophies? It’s true. There are a lot, and I’m sure there are even more out there. It seems like everyone and their brother has a “better” way of doing things which in turn becomes a new “philosophy” that parents should go by. No wonder parents give up and just wing it. It’s all so confusing!

Today I want to discuss the 3 mainstream feeding philosophies I’ve found as well as the one that I think works best for baby and mom. They include hyperscheduling…better known as clock feeding, attachment parenting or demand feeding, and parent-directed feeding. Two of these are extreme opposites, and one falls nicely in the middle.

After 4 kids and trying each of these feeding styles, I’ve come to the conclusion below and found the perfect fit for my family.

Which will suit you and your family? Read on and see for yourself.

3 Mainstream Feeding Philosophies

Hyperscheduling or Clock Feeding

This feeding philosophy consists of setting a specific amount of time between baby’s feedings and sticking to it come hell or high water. If you choose to feed your baby every 3 hours then you feed your baby every 3 hours, no exceptions. What if baby’s hungry 2 hours after his last meal? Too bad, it’s not time!

This philosophy was developed because it was believed that babies grew accustomed to their environments, and that their bodies would follow along or get “in rhythm” with their feeding times. It’s also thought that this type of feeding helps to decrease overeating and obesity among children. Basically it boils down to structure.

This type of feeding schedule is very conservative and is usually better for mom in that she knows exactly when baby will eat. It works for her schedule more than it does for baby.

How It Worked For Me

This was the feeding/scheduling style I tried with my first baby, or at least it was a very loose version of it. I was definitely not a slave to the clock. If baby was hungry early, I didn’t force him to wait until the clock said I could feed him or anything. No matter, I found that this style only ended up frustrating me with myself and with baby because “the schedule” started to fall apart at some point. Life happens, baby goes through a different stage, or some other common life reality comes into play and the schedule no longer worked for us… unless I wanted to stay home all day long, which I didn’t.

Attachment parenting…AKA Demand Feeding

Demand feeding is where the baby is in charge of when it eats. If she cries…feed her. When she wakes up…feed her. This feeding philosophy is the extreme opposite of clock feeding. It’s a very liberal feeding style, and its approach is non-structured.

Attachment parenting has many facets, but the main idea is creating a emotional bond with your baby so that she gets her comfort and security from you. You do everything with your baby. Beyond feeding, it could be wearing your baby around all day while she’s awake or even laying down with her to get her to go to sleep.

This style of feeding is usually for the benefit of the baby, not mom, and in some cases can cause you to have a demanding little booger and a very tired mama. It can also make it more difficult for baby to find a good routine for themselves as they get older because they’re used to getting what they want when they want. Who wants to wait on something when you really don’t have to?

How It Worked For Me

I found that this method did not work very well for me when I tried it with my second child. At first it did, when baby was a newborn and very small. It was easy to keep him close by, feed him whenever he acted hungry and let him sleep whenever and wherever he wanted. But as he got older, I started seeing him being very clinging and demanding. Now granted he was a baby and babies need their mamas, but I couldn’t possibly lay down and sleep with him when it was nap time. I couldn’t wear him around all day! Dad did not cut it… only mama was enough so this type of feeding/scheduling style worked at first, but it was definitely not something I wanted to continue on with.

Parent-Directed Feeding

PDF is smack dab in the middle of the previous 2 feeding styles. This style of feeding is more of an independent style with a flexible focus. A lot of people refer to it as routine feedings or scheduled feedings. It takes the benefits of each of the above philosophies and mushes them together.

Basically, mom sets the time between baby’s meals (usually every 2-3 hours for a newborn), but adjusts if baby is hungry sooner. If mom wants to feed her 1 month old every 3 hours then she feeds him at the set times in order for his body to adjust to a feeding schedule. If he wakes up early or shows signs of hunger before the next scheduled feeding session, she goes ahead and feeds him and adjusts the rest of the days feedings accordingly which tends to happen during growth spurts or times of illness.

This style is based on flexibility and balance and seems to work well for mama and baby as feedings spans can shorten or lengthen as needed based on baby’s age and life situations.

How It Worked For Me

This is the feeding/scheduling style that I naturally fell into with baby #1 and baby #2 when the above two styles didn’t work so well for me. I didn’t read about it in some book until later on, but this was just something that came naturally. I wanted my babies to get used to routine because I knew that was a good thing, and I knew I did well with routines too. So once I jumped ship on the other two styles I realized that routine for my kids was a simple cycle. Eat, Awake, Sleep. That’s it.

Like I said earlier, with a newborn, I tend to be more of an attachment parenter because I want to establish good nursing habits and just bond with my sweet little man. However when baby got older, around 3-4 months, I started moving towards this routine cycle of eat, awake, sleep. We did that over and over every 3 hours eventually working our way up to 4 hours and that worked well as baby got older. I followed baby’s hunger cues and if he woke up early and was hungry than I fed him. This worked well for us, and it’s what I’ve continued on with each of my other 2 babies.

So Which Is Best?

Fortunately, this isn’t a question I can answer for you.

After 4 babies, I have found what seems to work best for us which was to work my way away from both extremes and finally settle on the middle ground. This doesn’t mean it’s the best or most right way to do things. It doesn’t even mean it’s what you should do with your baby.

This may not work for you. You may do better with a stricter routine, you may do better with more laid back routine, and then again, you may like the flexible structure of the middle ground like I do. It really comes down to how you want to parent and what your schedule is already like. The number of kids you have will also play a role in how you feed and schedule you babies, and the great thing about it is that you can work any of this to fit your life… if something doesn’t work, you can always change your mind about it and try something else later.

Everyone’s different, and no one is in a position to judge each other based on what each mama thinks is best. No two babies are alike and no two mamas are alike so how can we say that one way is right and one way is wrong? We natural mamas need to stick together, grow our supportive community, and help each other, not cut each other down.

Okay, so now I want to hear from you. Which feeding philosophy/schedule has worked best for you and your kiddos? How have you benefited from it?

Remember, this is a war-free zone. I have the right not to approve any comments I don’t want on my page so if you don’t have anything nice or beneficial to say, don’t say it at all. If you do, it won’t come through. Promise.

Post originally published on September 11, 2011. Updated on March 5, 2014.

  1. Rebekah K. says:

    With our first two we had to do hyper scheduling at the beginning or they wouldn’t have eaten enough. They were too sleepy, especially my first. He was 2 1/2 weeks early and got very jaundice, which made it worse. We continued with the very structured feeding with him, but I’ve gotten more and more lax with my scheduling as we have had more and the last two were very good eaters.:) They weren’t quite as early as the first two. My second was 2 weeks early.

    • Meagan says:

      You make a great point for hyper scheduling feedings Rebekah. I know with jaundice you’re supposed to feed them often and consistently so they pee and poo a lot which clears the bilirubin from their system. I can totally relate with switching around feeding styles too. I change based on babies age. I’m probably more demand-type feeding at first then I switch to more parent-directed feeding as baby gets older. Thanks for sharing with me!!

  2. Heather r says:

    My first baby boy was on demand eating and after 2 years of nursing him every 2 hours even through the night I really felt like I was going crazy. then I had my second boy and he ate a lot less so he was on demand and it worked just fine then my third boy came and seems to be just the same as the first and he nurses constantly. They want to eat so early that I ended up giving my last little boy food at an early age which caused food allergies. Wouldn’t recommend it. I guess with my next child we’ll see what happens but I think I will hold off feeding them food till a lot later and with the nursing thing either put up with every two hour eating or supplement with something which I’m not sure I’m ready to do Yet. kind of a hard place to be in but when I look at them all of that trouble is worth it. I don’t think I’d really change what I did But as a side note they are not very good sleepers till they are weened.
    and I just love your blog I follow it religiously and make my own body care so all of your tips are priceless to me thank you. And that really is sincere not lip service. good luck with your new baby boy we have 3 ourselves and maybe we’ll have another- one could be so lucky- truly!

    • Meagan says:

      Isn’t it funny how babies are so different! I feel like, for the most part, mine have all been pretty similar… as far as eating and sleeping patterns have gone, but I’ve always been a bit more structured with them than demand-feeding or attachment parenting allows. I tried that, and it did NOT work for us although it works really well for some people. If you do decide to have another little one, I hope he or she is a great eater. It can be tough feeding them so often or having them use mama as a pacifier! And the food allergies thing. I’m sure that’s such a bummer. I have two little ones in my extended family with severe food allergies, and I know it’s very trying and scary for their parents.

      Thanks again for your comment Heather, and I’m so glad you’re loving the blog!

  3. Tonya says:

    I have 6 kids and the youngest is just 3 months, so I have breastfed for over 11 years total now! It is funny, I don’t think about what I do, I just do it. I don’t really fit any of these that you named, but you mentioned responsive breastfeeding. I’ve seen a definition for that once and I think that is where I fall. Basically I feed my babies when they need to be fed or comforted. Sometimes that means I nurse nonstop, sometimes that means I nurse every 2-3 hours. I have nursed all my children for a long time – the earliest weaning was at 18 months, the latest was at 3 years of age. I chose to wean each of them when I needed to (sometimes due to another pregnancy and my inability to nurse while pregnant, sometimes due to me just being DONE). I think it is sad we have managed to turn nursing a baby into such a divisive issue! Just feed your baby how you need to feed your baby and don’t worry about what other people choose to do!

    • Meagan says:

      Thanks for your comment Tonya, and it seems that responsive feeding is the common consensus among most natural mamas. Follow babies cues and feeding them when they’re hungry. It’s funny though… I tried all these different methods because I didn’t know how to nurse a baby. You get all this different advice online and as a new mama, it’s hard to know what’s the right way or the best way for your baby. As I’ve had more children I’ve realized that there’s less of a science or method to it and it’s more about what comes natural — like you said. I do think it did help me to try out these different methods so I could figure out what worked for me and my kids. Same goes for weaning. I get asked all the time about when the best time to wean is. It’s different for every mom, every baby, and ever season you may be in at the moment. There’s no one way I suppose. Anyway, thanks for your comment, and I can totally relate to being DONE with nursing and weaning then! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *