By Popular Demand

Back to Nature

Demand, or ad libitum feeding has gained in popularity over the past 30 years or so. In the 1950's and early 1960's, mothers were advised to keep their babies on a strict feeding schedule. In the latter part of the 1960's, a kind of back-to-nature revolution took place in which mothers were encouraged to listen to and watch for instinctual signs on the part of both baby and mother that would suggest the right times for feedings. The philosophy behind demand feeding had many components and these philosophies continue to make sense long after the, "Make Love, Not War," generation stilled their cries.

Supply and Demand

First of all, the law of supply and demand can be applied to the evolutionary process of lactation in which demand by the baby for a feeding would lead to a more reliable supply of milk. This can be seen in the natural fluctuations in milk supply due to growth spurts and slow-downs when the baby increases or decreases his demands for feeding. A teething baby, or a baby who is unwell, will also want to nurse less, at a time when he may need to reserve his energies for cutting teeth or healing. The decrease in feedings leads to a lessened milk supply, sparing the mother the discomfort of overfull breasts.

Another coexistent theory is that the baby knows best when he needs to be fed and will only cry for a feeding at the appropriate time. His little body sends out signals that he is hungry and the hunger signals cause discomfort, making the baby cry. The baby stops crying when his needs are met. At the end of the feeding, the baby feels satisfied and shows his contentment. He will often allow the nipple to fall out of his mouth when he has had the right amount of milk for optimal growth, thus ending the feeding in the most natural manner possible.

Psychiatrist Erik Erickson believes that meeting a young infant's demands as they arise is the best way of reinforcing his feelings of trust in and optimism about the world.

In practical terms, nursing a baby as soon as he begins to fuss prevents him from taking in air, which can lead to colic pain and crying. Feeding a baby on demand may seem like a burden in which the baby can boss his mom around any old time, like a cranky little dictator, but the fact is that babies who fed on demand are most often very peaceful and content as compared to those on a strict feeding schedule.