Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Dita De Boni: Feed on demand or settle themselves?

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

At the moment, my six-month-old baby is waking every two hours in the night. This is bad enough on its own, but added to this a sick preschooler with loud night terrors (that conveniently seem to happen in between the two-hourly baby wakings). It's the recipe for living zombie-dom.

The thing is, because I don't work outside the home I have never felt the need to get the baby into some sort of routine. I feed on demand, on the 24 hour clock, in part because it is easier than crying-to-sleep, in part because I want to ensure everyone else in the house can sleep through the night (as a quick feed gets the baby quietly and quickly back to sleep) and in part because I want to continue eating like a horse and frequent breastfeeding is one of the few ways this is achievable for someone stuck at home like myself.

And then, the inevitable happens. I start to look especially haggard, act deranged, and pick fights over everything, and my husband asks, with as much sensitivity as he can muster, whether in fact it is time for me to bloody well let the child settle himself. This has happened with each baby and the time has come for number #3.

This time, I had at least some science on my side (kind of). An article in The Guardian this week reports on a study that shows babies who are fed when they are hungry (breast OR bottle, before anyone gets Piri Weepu on my ass) achieve higher academic results throughout school - by the age of eight, they have an IQ as much as five points higher.

The flip side, however, is that the mothers feel a hell of a lot worse. Those that follow the likes of Gina Ford's settling regime score "better on wellness measures, and report feeling more confident and less tearful". Those that don't are exhausted and grumpy.

It's not hard to imagine that women who can actually institute the Gina Ford method of child quietening would feel a huge sense of achievement, as well as the benefits of full nights of sleep. It involves a kind of rigour and discipline that only those with minds like steel traps can muster. In my experience it is usually carried out by highly successful, professional women who either are planning to return to work or enjoy wresting control out of any situation.

The rest of us muddle though, looking about 60 by the time we've relinquished the whole routine. But despite the fact demand-feeding purportedly gives a child an academic boost, and I do think it's a good thing to start out with, I hope to soon report that it is no longer practised in this household. For one thing, the child at six-months is simply not hungry all the times he squawks, and so there does come a point where the issue is more one of comforting and self-settling rather than an empty stomach.

For another, if I become any more tired I will have to be hooked up to an intravenous drip containing caffeine and speed just to get myself through the day!

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