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A baby’s feeding pattern is associated with his or her academic attainment in life and the well-being of the mother. Experts say that babies who are permitted to regulate their own feeding bouts perform better academically later in life than those who are fed on a schedule, reports Sade Oguntola
For generations, mothers were advised to feed their babies at regularly-spaced intervals of three or four hours. Today, official medical recommendations have shifted in favour of feeding on demand. This is probably a good thing because research has shown that many babies are better off if they are permitted to regulate their own feeding bouts.
Timed-interval infant feeding schedule is not dictated by physiology or what’s best for babies. In fact, new mothers are more likely to establish an adequate milk supply if they breastfeed frequently and on demand. It also permits babies to adjust their intake in response to natural variations in milk quantity and quality.
Moreover, infants breastfeed whenever they show signs of hunger, benefit from higher quality breast milk and fewer digestive problems, as well as experience less stress and pain.
Researchers in support of letting the baby’s interest, not the clock, determine when a breastfeeding session is over, indicated that babies who are fed on demand do better academically than their peers who are fed on a schedule.
Using data from more than 10,000 children born in the early 1990s, researchers indicated in the study which appeared in the European Journal of Public Health that demand-fed babies perform better academically. Three types of mothers and babies were included in the study- babies who were fed to a schedule, for example every four hours, when they were four weeks old, those whose mothers tried, but did not manage to feed to a schedule, and those who were fed on demand.
They found that children who were demand-fed as infants had intelligence quotients (IQs) that were four or five points higher than those who were fed to a schedule. This is after taking into account background factors such as a parent’s education, family income, the child’s sex, age, maternal health and parenting styles.
Paradoxically, the difference in IQ levels of around four to five points, though statistically highly significant, would not make a child at the bottom of the class move to the top, but it would be noticeable.
Nonetheless, Dr Kofoworola Adediran, a consultant pediatrician, Institute of Child Health, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, stated that experts had always advised mothers to feed their babies on demand because of its numerous benefits.
According to her, “since 1999, experts have been talking about the need for mothers to feed babies exclusively with breastmilk for at least six months. This has positive effects on the development of the baby. Babies that are breastfed are better off than those who are not.”
Dr Adediran, who stated that breastfeeding on demand means feeding whenever a baby demands it or show signs of hunger, declared that babies cannot have fixed times of feeding like adults.
“Whereas an adult may eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, for a child who is less than five years of age, it should be different. They need to eat more frequently. In the case of newborns, as soon as the mother notices that her baby wants to feed, feeding can commence. Of course, this might be more than eight times in a day.
Dr Adediran stated that mothers need not fear that they would not be able to meet the needs of their babies. According to her, the more frequently a woman breastfeeds, the greater the quantity of milk produced. Frequent breastfeeding also helps to ensure that milk production keeps up with the babies’ changing needs.
The paediatrician stated that work schedule should not be a reason for any mother to breastfeed adequately. According to her, “although the best option is to feed a baby from the breast directly because of the bonding effect, where this is not possible, the breastmilk can be expressed, stored neatly and hygienically and fed to the baby using spoon and cup.”
“Breastmilk stores favourably under room temperature and can be fed to the baby for up to 12 hours. If kept in the fridge, it can last for up to 24 hours, and, in the freezer, for up to two weeks.”
The expert, who stated that stress and worries can affect breastmilk production, declared that “the brain is the organ that gives signal that helps the breast to eject milk. So if the mother is not relaxed, if she is worried, she will find out that she is not producing enough breastmilk.”
Dr Olukayode Ogunkunle, a principal medical officer, State Hospital, Saki, Oyo State, while corroborating that feeding babies on demand was the best, stated: “the stomach of children is not as big as adults and as such would not be able to contain enough as it is the case in an adult.”
“Since their stomach is small, babies need to eat more regularly. You need not time them. This will ensure that they get all the required nutrients for development. By the time you are timing them, the child could have been hungry.”
Parenting experts, however, were not surprised by the findings that feeding on demand promotes good cognitive functions given that 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 afraid; calming when over-excited. A lot of that communication takes place around the baby’s primary need and greatest pleasure: feeding.
Some parents worry that if they adopt a baby-led infant feeding schedule, they’ll end up with an overfed baby. This isn’t very likely—not if babies are breastfeeding. Evidence supports the idea that infants have an appetite-control mechanism. They adjust their intakes in response to changes in the calorie content of their milk.Share