Demand feeding, permissive parenting. Is this loving your child or training a narcissist?
Many moms assume that demand feeding and responding to every “squeak” from baby is the most loving, natural and healthy approach to child-care.
They assume that this approach makes baby feel loved and secure. “Not so”, said Dr. Leila Denmark, the world’s most experienced Pediatrician.
Hi, I’m Madia. I have eleven children and one of the greatest privileges of my life was to know Dr. Leila Denmark. She practiced pediatrics for over 75 years and was my mentor for 32 years.
I can hardly express how much she helped me, both with the children’s medical issues and family life challenges. I would love to share what she taught me with you.
Demand feeding or feeding every two hours round-the-clock is often recommended for newborns. Many assume that demand feeding simulates the more “natural” and wholesome habits of the animal kingdom and human mothers that lived long ago.
Dr. Denmark claimed that this assumption is wrong. Having grown up on a farm, at the turn of the twentieth century, she observed first-hand that animals had a rhythm to their eating habits based on their particular digestive systems. Her own mother, a farmer’s wife, would never have had the time to nurse on demand. Her mother did not live at the frenetic pace many modern women tend to fall into. She took time to relax and nurse her babies.
However, without modern refrigeration and labor-saving devices, a farmer’s wife was too busy to nurse every time baby squeaked. Feedings had to be spaced so necessary chores could be completed. All family members needed their rest at night, so baby was trained to the rhythm of a happy, active household.
Exhausted and Depressed Mothers
Demand feeding is likely to produce exhausted and depressed mothers, colicky babies, and chaotic homes. A good routine of eating and sleeping is vital for the health of the child and for family harmony. Milk meals need to be spaced sufficiently to allow time for the infant’s stomach to empty before adding more milk.
From Dr. Denmark:
"The stomach is a small sack, and the food has to remain in the stomach and be . mixed with the hydrochloric acid and pepsin and be digested before it is expelled into the gut to be mixed with the bile and pancreatic juices.
After this process of digestion, the food is absorbed to supply the needs of the body. If we continue to add milk to the stomach without giving the milk that is in the stomach time to be digested and expelled, the stomach has to expand more and more because the stomach does not expel milk into the gut until it has been digested in the stomach.
With the constant adding of milk, there would never be a time when all the milk in the stomach would have gone through the process of digestion; but the old would be mixed with the new. The only thing that could happen would be for the stomach to expand to accommodate all that was put in, or the undigested milk would have to be passed into the gut, or the baby would have to spit up to get relief. So we see that feeding a child every time he cries would create a serious problem."
Feeding a child every time he cries creates a serious problem.
Upon returning from the hospital, a mother should put her newborn on a consistent schedule of eating and sleeping. This routine does not simply benefit parents or promote parental convenience.
Scheduling is best for baby! Training a child to eat and live on a sensible routine is not only fundamental for his good health. It enhances the child’s ability to live a productive life and promotes character development. The infant learns during his earliest days that he cannot expect to have every perceived need gratified instantly.
The consistent routine builds a sense of security. He learns that he can depend on and trust his parents to meet his true needs at the appropriate time.
Recommended Schedule for Newborns:
Feed breast milk or formula; allow baby to sleep in an open room. Raise the window shades and leave the door ajar if there is no danger of a toddler
harming the baby.
Bathe (as needed).
Feed and put down for nap with door and shades closed. Assure quiet.
Feed, leaving the room open.
Feed and play with baby.
Feed. Change diaper; check to see if baby is all right. Do not pick the child up or feed him until 6:00 a.m.
If a baby cries all the time and for no apparent reason, we know something is wrong and the cause should be explored. However, for an infant to be healthy and develop properly, it is critical that he spend a certain amount of time crying loudly. Crying is a natural way of expanding and strengthening his lungs and giving baby his necessary exercise. A newborn generally sleeps twenty hours out of 24. A healthy baby may spend up to four hours crying every day. That fussing can take place at one particular time of day such as evening hours, or baby may cry some before each feeding. With patience and persistence, he can be trained to fuss during daylight hours so everyone gets needed rest at night.
Before a child is acclimated to the above schedule, he will probably want to be fed during the night. A baby doesn’t need to feed in the middle of the night. He should be getting all of his nutritional needs met during day feedings. If parents are consistent with the above schedule, most children become accustomed to it after a few days and will begin sleeping through the night.
Our children were usually trained to sleep through the night within ten days. Our first baby, Malinda, took four nights. Some infants take longer than others to train. If your baby is one of those ask yourself, “Am I following the schedule consistently? (Consistency is vital.) Is my baby positioned so that he feels secure (see pages 16-19)? Am I keeping his bedroom quiet? Do I need to exercise self-control and persevere a few more nights?”
Many mothers, including our oldest daughter, Malinda (who now has children of her own) find it easier to train their newborns to sleep through the night if baby is sleeping in a separate room from mom and dad. Try putting the crib in a safe, separate room, ensuring that toddlers do not have easy access to baby. Once, we discovered our adventuresome three-year-old had climbed into bed with his infant sister— not a safe scenario! Installing locks on the outside of nursery doors is not a bad idea.
Many experienced “Denmark moms” also recommend keeping baby awake as much as possible between the six and ten o’clock feedings so he is more likely to sleep through the night. Bring him into the living room and play gently with him. If it is not too noisy, this would be a good time for other family members to interact with him as well. Bear in mind, however, that a newborn will snooze off and on throughout the day.
Use your discretion, remembering that normal, healthy infants do cry even if nothing is wrong. Many things can wake a baby up. Check for fever, a stuffy nose, diaper rash, or abnormal bowel movements. Is the temperature of his room comfortable? Is baby gaining normally?
After ruling out the above, you might try giving him a little formula at ten o’clock after you nurse him. You may be tired and not producing enough milk in the evening. Mix one tablespoon of powdered formula with two ounces of sterile water (yielding two ounces of formula).
If he drinks the entire amount, feed him two and one-half ounces the next night after nursing. Continue increasing the amount every night by one-half ounce until he leaves a little in the bottle. An infant will not drink too much. Minor supplementing at his ten o’clock feeding may be all it takes to help baby sleep until six.
Babies need a lot of affection and I loved cuddling my babies, but as a new mother it was a tremendous relief to me to realize I didn’t have to pick baby up every time she cried. I noticed that she fell asleep sooner at bedtime when I let her fuss a while.