Babies who are fed on demand do better at school than those who are fed on schedule, according to new research published this week. Surprisingly, the findings are consistent across both breastfed and formula-fed babies.
This is the first large-scale study that has been carried out to investigate the long-term outcomes of schedule versus demand-fed babies. The results are likely to spark fierce debate amongst parenting ‘experts’, particularly the Gina Ford’s of this world who have for years advocated the benefits of scheduled feeding.
The study was carried out by researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, and at the University of Oxford. Taking into account a wide range of background factors that include parents’ educational level, family income, the child’s sex and age, maternal health and parenting styles, the research found that demand-feeding is associated with higher IQ scores at age eight, and this difference is also evident in the results of SATs tests at ages five, seven, 11 and 14.
Additionally, it was also found that mothers who schedule feed are more likely to feel confident and show high levels of well-being. Feeding on demand can clearly take its toll on the mother both physically and emotionally.
I know very little about schedule or formula feeding. I made the choice to breastfeed Little I on demand – it was something that I felt quite strongly about doing, as it simply felt right to be responding to the needs of my baby in that way. When she was hungry, I fed her. I didn’t have it in me to leave her to cry and wait for a feed. Her little cheeks got chubbier and chubbier, and a few people ‘suggested’ I might be feeding her too much, but for Little I and me, feeding was as much about comforting and communicating with each other, as it was about filling her tummy with milk.
Speaking to The Guardian, psychologist Penelope Leach, author of The Essential First Year, says: “A baby’s optimal brain development depends on communications between his ‘emotional brain’ and his mother’s immediate and sensitive responses. The baby expresses strong feelings, the mother instantly recognises, responds and regulates them, comforting the baby when he is angry, soothing him when he is afraid; bringing him back on to an even keel when he is over-excited. A lot of that communication takes place around the baby’s primary need and greatest pleasure: feeding.”
While there seems to be a growing trend at the moment towards parent-centred parenting, this study does a lot to support the child-centred parenting argument. It will be interesting to see how experts respond to the findings.
Do you have a view on the subject? If so, please get involved in the debate using the comments section below.
* Image by Richard Barry Photography