Breastfeeding on Demand is OK

By Ashley Franz, attachment parenting leader (API of Central Arkansas, USA)

Once upon a time, there was a magical land where babies never cried…

A couple of friends asked me lately how to avoid running low on, or running out of, milk when breastfeeding. My answer is: Quit scheduling. Easy as pie. Yet, why is it so hard for us?

I am reading this totally inspiring book called Simplicity Parenting, and it’s all about eliminating all the clutter from our lives that causes us to run on such a cram-packed, tight schedule. I think the book is meant for those with older kids in school, with extra-curricular activities, computers, video games, TV, etc. But even with tiny kids who stay at home, it still applies because it’s hard not to pack things and activities in and get obsessed with our “routine” and our “schedule,” because we think that’s what we are supposed to do, because our society values punctuality and order so highly and we are used to having it, so it makes us comfortable.

At my daughter’s first doctor’s visit, this old man pediatrician who has seen about a zillion kids in his career, did all of the usual stuff, then sat down at his laptop to enter the information. (Poor guy…switching to electronic records in his late 60s has to be frustrating!) He is getting quicker now, but still just learning how to use the new program.

He asked, “Breastfed or Formula?”

I said, “Breast.”

He said, “How often?”

Me, “I don’t know.”

Him, “How many minutes on each side?”

Me, “I don’t know.”

He pulled down the menu on his answer box and said, “Hmm…like…every two to three hours? About 10 minutes on each side?”

Me, “Well, that might happen sometimes…. I’m sorry, I really have no idea. It could be anywhere from one minute to one hour for a feeding….or more, or less….and she might eat every couple hours, but she might eat every 15 minutes…or more or less…for a few hours, then sleep for four or five…I have absolutely no order. The answer is, I feed on demand.”

He scrolls down and says, “Hmm….there’s no option for that! Very interesting because…” And he went on to say that breastfeeding is designed to be done that way and told me about this study that was done on a primitive tribe in South America by an anthropologist who visited the village and made the observation that the babies there never cried. He said, “The conclusion was that because the babies were carried around in ‘bags like yours (slings)’ and had access to the breast at all times, they never cried…because they weren’t hungry!” and he just cracked up laughing, like “What a novel concept!”

I looked down at Natalee who was happily tucked into my “bag” and thought about all my babies. They never cried. I had never really thought about that before.

My only real point in writing this is to let you, the world, the people, know that feeding on demand is okay, and it is an option you can consider. You might have to simplify your life a bit or re-structure (un-structure?) some, but you might find it to be worth the effort.

36 thoughts on “Breastfeeding on Demand is OK”

  1. I wear my baby ALL day, bf on demand and co-sleep and guess what? The world isn’t made up of fairy tales…my baby still cries. Near constantly actually. Next time you see a mother who has a screaming baby-don’t judge. Sounds like you might just have easy kids! Which, hey that’s great for you. My baby has put himself on a schedule for naps and eating-a schedule I did not create. However, if I deviate from this even slightly he is a complete basketcase. The mothers with lots of support from family and friends who have a regular babysitter, kids with an easy temperment and a husband home every night can be so self righteous and judgemental. Try living somewhere where you don’t know anyone, your husband is deployed, you have 3 kids under 3 and a baby who cries regardless of how “attached” you make yourselves…and then you can write your fairy tale article.

  2. Great story!! I carrier my 11 monthh daughter around on my front or back most of the day breastfeeding when she needs to…tired..hungry..or just wants to relax and she is so happy! I wish this idea was more “normal” in our culture because it truly does make for a happy mama and baby.

  3. YES!!! Everyone is always amazed that my daughter never cries. I think this is in part due to her wonderful personality and in part due to the fact that she is fed on demand. All her needs are met, it’s really simple!

  4. Enjoyed reading your article. I guess I had an “easy” baby too bc mine rarely cried. And we co slept, did reverse cycle breastfeeding since Im on active duty in the army, but when not working it we always feed on demand. Her dad was deployed and we did fall into a schedule. Most proletarbabies do it just happens naturally in accordance to our bio rhythm. Babies are so sensitiveand can cry if their schedule is disturbed with a lot of activities. I think the whole point is to tune into your child’s needs. We aren’t in an isolated tribe and there are a lot of outside factors to consider. Like our diet and toxins and media….the list goes on and on.

  5. Sarah w. Sounds like you are judging the author. You don’t know if her husband is home every night or if she has family around. She could possibly be in the same or similar situation that you are in… Guess what… She is!… Attitude is everything… Judge not lest you be judged…

  6. Great article! Sarah, your comment was extremely rude! If you don’t agree just move on with your day….don’t be so harsh to someone that is only trying to help other moms find an easier way. Btw…I know Ashley personally and her husband is in med school and never home at night, not to mention raising 3 children under the age of five in a city where she knows no one! She isn’t judging….only giving moms another option that might be exactly what they need!

  7. Sarah- i don’t think the writer, in any way, was implying that crying is always a result of insecure attachment or needs not being met. It was a small essay on thinking how much crying COULD be avoided with feeding on demand or on cue. It seems as though you have a very tough situation to get through. Absolutely rough! I’m sorry for that. However, you have no idea what the writer’s situation is. She may have had her own difficulties. All you know is that her baby was sleeping soundly in her sling at a moment in time. That is hardly a reason to accuse her of painting a less than realistic picture of feeding on demand. It was meant to be thought-provoking and encouraging. I think that doing all that are for your #3 is admirable, by the way, especially considering that you are doing it by yourself most of the time.

  8. Every child is different, as is every family dynamic. It’s great that on demand feeding works for your family, but please don’t assume it is the best method for all. I on demand fed my baby until my maternity leave was up, but it is near impossible to be a working mom and not have your baby on some sort of a schedule. My baby is thriving and seems to be happier on a schedule and it works for us. However, I can appreciate the fact that you found something you really care about and want to share what works well for you with others.

  9. Actually, breastfeeding on demand is not only OK, it is a MUST to keep a good milk supply. Many mothers who chose to breastfeed are unrealistically told/expected, and even pressured to feed on a schedule just like babies who are formula-fed, only to be told later that their baby is not putting on weight because they are “not producing enough milk” (this is a rare condition)! The reality is that babies were designed to be breastfed on demand and that the more they feed, the more milk is produced (that’s how our breasts were designed to function). Yes, breastfeeding on demand can be overwhelming, especially during the first few months when their stomach is very tiny meaning that they need to feed very very often. Professional support may be needed in order to overcome some challenges that may occur and the support is out there! Mothers should be encouraged to ask for help when they are experiencing difficulties. It is OK to ask for help. Yes, breastfeeding is natural (ie that’s our breasts’ primary function), still it is a skill that needs to be developed (women, in “western” societies usually do not have a model). It takes time for both mother and baby to master this skill and once they both relax into it, it is a wonderful experience.

    My baby is now 15 months and happily breastfeeding on demand (in addition to eating some solids). My husband has always supported us, which is a blessing. There is no firmly set routine/schedule (rather rituals supported by gentle and loving guidance on healthy living). We co-sleep, communicate compassionately with and carry our baby. This all seemed “natural” to us right from the beginning, before we even heard about the fact that there was a term for it (i.e. attachment parenting). We just consistently try to put ourselves in our baby’s shoes and ask ourselves “what would we feel if…” or “how did such and such made me feel when I was a child, as far as I can remember?” It is true that our baby almost never cries and attachment parenting must have a lot to do with it (in addition to his own personality I suppose). Now, he does cry and/or grumbles sometimes (and I suspect the babies mentioned in the study did also cry sometimes) either because he is frustrated (such as when he wants something and we cannot give it to him or trying to tell us something that we just are not getting – still mastering baby language), or he is in pain, or simply because he needs a cuddle. Yes, attached babies DO cry. And, it is OK.

  10. I must say I’m a fan of the author. Although we dont always see eye to eye I love her honesty. She is a young mother. She has three beautiful babes under five and a husband who works around the clock (literally). Her closest friend or family member is atleast 500 miles away and her idea of a baby sitter (and I’m not even sure she would use this) is the church nursery. She homeschools and is a great teacher. Her babies are babies. They are gorgeous and perfect and I remember meeting her with the oldest strapped to her chest. She taught me how to use the hip hammock and the mobe wrap and how to get rid of mastitis. She’s not judging or superior she’s just trying to help others with her own unique experience.

  11. Wow! Thanks Ashley for such a great post! My wife breastfed both of our kids and fed them when they were hungry and fell into a naturally-occurring semi-consistent schedule. They were by NO means “perfect” babies, but hey, that’s reality, right?

    I just appreciate any woman that makes the decision to to what’s best for their child: breastfeeding in any timeframe is so much better than the synthetic alternative!

    To the obviously concerned “Sarah W:” I think Ms. Franz is merely trying to help provide some sense of “okayness” for those moms that want to base their lives around their babies’ needs and not feel pushed into some sort of media-forced rigorous schedule. She doesn’t seem to indicate that it’s the “magical formula” for making perfect babies. Please thank your husband for his dedication to protecting our freedom. Thank you for altering your lifestyle so he can serve.

    3 under three…I know you’re worn out!

    Ok…I’ll get off my soap box now…

  12. a note to Sarah W – I know where you’re coming from! you don’t mention your baby’s age, but I commend you on what you are doing, as difficult as it may be, you are doing the right things to make it better. My DD is 2.5, still nursing up to 4 times per day and to fall asleep for naps and bedtime (we cosleep), & still loves to be held. But she has a wonderful attachment to me, is extremely confident, independent, nurturing and empathetic – a great result! Keep up the GREAT work, and I hope that you are able to find some local support to help you thru this challeanging time. My DD cried too as an infant, in spite of constantly carrying her, nursinAg on demand, being her only caretaker (she would cry with everyone else!). I realized at 3 mos she had terrible gassiness, eliminated all dairy from my diet on advice from the lactation specialist, and by age 4 mos the crying resolved and she sounded more like the baby in the above article. Have you talked with anyone to see if there could be something causing baby’s discomfort? btw, DD never had a sleeping schedule until age 2, so thumbs up for that! God bless and thank you for your husband’s service and your sacrifice…

  13. Hey! Sara W… Do you know the author? Or ANYTHING about her life?? By reading your comment, I can tell that you do not. So maybe you should think before you come on here and make “judgements” about people. I think it’s funny that you assume that she has plenty of family around all the time, how many kids she has and their ages and that her husband is with her all of the time. She wasn’t being judgemental of you or anyone else who has a baby that crys….RUDE!!!

    Great article Ashley! Kiss all THREE of your sweet little babies for me! 🙂

  14. I’m really sorry, Sarah.. It’s true that all babies are different, and some will still cry even if you make yourself available and readily tend to their needs. I feel for you and your situation. Just know that you are doing the right thing.
    I b’feed baby on demand… He never cried, but now he’s almost 1 and still only giving me 3 hrs sleep at a time! He’s the happiest baby, though…. I just hope for my sake that he’ll night wean soon.

  15. I babywear whenever we are out of the house, breastfeed on cue and my 8 month old often has total crying meltdowns. Some babies are higher needs than others. I think it’s genetic as I was the same.

    It can be quite upsetting to mothers of high needs babies to suggest our babies only cry because of some fault in our patenting. Just as some older children are more boisterous, or introverted, or quizzical, some babies are just more vocal than others.

    I’m not saying you had ‘easy babies’ just that it’s easy to judge from your own patenting experience and not realise other people might have a very different one to yourself.

  16. You can demand feed and STILL turn up to places when you need to. The trick is learning to feed in a sling! I still have memories of breastfeeding in a sling while shopping at the supermarket. I felt really proud of myself for being such a great multi-tasker!

  17. Sarah W. — My son screamed round the clock for many more months than “colic” is supposed to last. My pedi kept telling me to let him cry it out and to nurse him less often because he was using me as a pacifier and could not soothe himself. I wore him constantly, co-slept (we had planned on 3 to 6 months but he would not physically separate from me without screaming after that so we kept it up), and nursed round the clock. He’s 2 now and I still wear him sometimes, still co-sleep most of the night, and still nurse round the clock. It turns out he has multiple food intolerances and Sensory Processing Disorder, and he just grew out of his reflux a few months ago. It’s hard. It’s lonely and difficult not to feel defensive when people assume you made your baby this way by your parenting. My husband works 15 hour days, hates co-sleeping and wants me to do CIO, and expects me to wean my son earlier than my daughter (who weaned herself at 4). So that all makes it harder. But you have to know in your heart that if you’re responding to your baby, you’re doing the right thing, whether he still cries or not. I don’t feel judged by posts like this; on the contrary, I hope they can encourage a parent with an easier baby who just needs a little more attention to use AP and be spared the screaming I dealt with.

  18. I never thought about that. My LO cries sometimes, like when she’s tired, bored, hurts herself, or is hungry. It usually doesn’t last long when she does. When I finally got off of my high horse and just let her nurse when she needed to (my parents told me she needed a schedule), then it got a little easier. Everyone comments on what a happy baby she is. She gets lots of cuddling time with mommy because we have her sleep next to me at night, and she does things with me or around me. I might have to look this tribe up if I can!

  19. I can relate to having a high need, colicy baby – and how exhausting and isolating it can sometimes feel. I realize now that I really needed to call in more help, more support, more empathy for myself,and get some solid sleep a few times a week, and not blame myself for the way my child behaves – which is a good lesson to learn early. It’s so easy to take credit for a “well-behaved” child, people then judge the parents of a “difficult” child, rather than offering a listening ear, empathy and encouragement. My husb. was much less comfortable with me nursing our son than our daughter, as if a boy should be independent from his mother earlier than a daughter. It’s an old cultural fear – the son falling in love with his mother and dad losing her affection.

  20. re: Sarah’s comment:

    I think it’s really important to support our whole village, AP mommas/pappas, ESPECIALLY those who need extra support!

    I’ve had many days where I had had enough of other people insinuating they know how to make my baby cry less, be happier, etc, to the point where I started to see unsolicited advice everywhere, even if that was not the reality of the situation (or article).

    Sarah, babies cry… they sometimes cry for no reason. Not because you’re not holding, feeding or loving them enough. Google PURPLE crying… Colic is pretty outdated, but PURPLE crying is a more evidence based approach to infants crying.

    The research the doctor in the article was referring to showed that babies worn cry considerably LESS than north american babies, but it did not say they never cried! He was misrepresenting the findings. Who knows how much crying you prevent by loving and mothering your upset child, rather than just leaving her to cry, or to be hungry.. full babies would not try to latch onto the breast, so it’s easy to tell when they are or are not hungry 🙂 The pacifier myth mentioned above is just that, a myth.. it’s usually more of a lack of access to milk-flow, but that’s a whole other thing. Where I work, at the Newman Clinic in Toronto, we see inconsolable, crying babies a lot. Often reeated for colic/gas… but once momma learns to full them up at the breast the behaviour changes. Something to consider? Check out for good information sheets on how to tell if your baby is full 🙂 It can be life changing!!

    What wonderful work you do for your babe, conforting her while she cries.. feeding her when she needs to be fed, and all while mothering a busy young family while your partner is deployed. I can’t imagine the strength you must find to do what you do for your family, and for our future parents! She is learning valuable lessons from you, and if I can say so, I bet you’re learning many from her.

    Keep on keepin’ on! We can’t forget that attachment parenting means you are attached to your child, and know what YOUR family needs. It’s not a list of rules to follow or else – that would be awfully detached from your family, and instead, attached to the rule book, no?

  21. I have read about this – mainly African babies, where carrying and on-demand feeding is the norm. I, too, carried both of mine, but my first was terribly colicky, the second i discovered none of us do well with dairy, and alleviated the colic there. But I have to say it was pure laziness that I didn’t schedule anyone. Because that would have meant that I would have had to schedule, and frankly, I like to go with the flow. You know as much as 40-something working mother under the age of five can do 😉 I still can’t say how much my youngest nurses, or for how long. But I do know parenting has been far more relaxed this go-round, despite having two. He asks, I nurse. Ten seconds? ten minutes? an hour? doesn’t matter! If I have to do stuff, I put him in the Ergo carrier and nurse on the go!

  22. Sarah W. – assuming that parent’s with quiet babies just have ‘easy babies’ is just as judgemental as saying parent’s of criers aren’t taking care of their child’s needs. One blames the parent while the other gives the parent no credit for their hard work.

    Sounds like your baby has sensory issues or stomach/pain problems, or is reacting to the stress in your household. My mom always said that military babies were the loudest babies because they couldn’t handle the stress and tension they felt from their mothers (she was a military wife with young children who moved constantly).

  23. Oh friends its nice to see/read encouraging and supportive words!
    Dear Sarah(the first commenter)As I read your comment my body could feel the stress and emotion you poured into it. As someone else commented on here, keep your head held high knowing you are listening to your mommy instincts! You are a very strong woman, you must be to be raising your babies and doing it alone for the most part! You are doing your best. Thats all any of us can do our very best! I think sometimes as women we forget to do self care to keep us going. For someone in Sarah’s shoes it would be very difficult to do self care because she sounds like she is on her own quite a bit. But we need it no matter how small or limited our time for it is. Maybe just our kind and loving comments to her will carry her through.

  24. Great article. I fed mine whenever they wanted when I was with them, and didn’t use a sling but hubby and I carried them as much as they wanted. I did work full-time outside they home and they didn’t have access to me then, but except when my older one was in a home daycare (2 months to 12 months – I try not to have regrets but I know he didn’t get the attention he needed) they always had access to loving arms and milk when they wanted it. My hubby and I worked opposite hours for 10 years to make it possible.

  25. LOL – I told my story in my comment but didn’t make any point related to the story. My point was that even my fussy older son didn’t cry as long as he was held and nursed as desired. (I don’t like “on demand” as it sounds like our babies are little dictators! And I didn’t wait until they “demanded.”) Breastfeeding was usually the magic cure for everything.

  26. All three of my babies hardly ever cried. When they did it was probably a bit of pain somewhere. I will never forget attending a La Leche League conference, having lunch in a large school gymnasium with a couple hundred attendees. There were 200 babies there and no crying! You might hear the beginning of a cry but it didn’t last long. That’s the beauty of attachment parenting.

    I’ve breastfed on beaches, buses, planes, in restaurants, parks…you name it. I’ve breastfed while pushing a stroller! One trick about having a baby who “never cries” is to be cued in to their signals. Watch for the warning signals of hunger/discomfort – don’t wait for the cry to respond. I attended a group meditation and breastfed my baby in the middle of it – and nobody even noticed a baby was there!

    I knew the consistency of my milk depending on how I was feeling, the time of day, or what came out of my baby’s diaper. If I or the baby were sick, the milk modified itself to become soothing medicine.

    Breastfeeding, and parenting, is a skill that takes lots of practice and dedication. If AP were more a part of our culture; if feminists lobbied to make the world not only gender-equal but parenting-friendly, AP practices would be the norm and babies would come with mom to the workplace or we would have wonderful maternity leaves as in Sweden.

    There is neurobiological proof that attachment bonds are important – what tuned in moms always knew instinctively!

  27. I have to say that I can sympathize with the first poster because I’ve been there done that and it’s so nerve wracking, especially with other needy kids to take care of. My first was easy going and although she had terrible reflux (projectile vomiting, couldn’t sleep laying down for 4 mos) she never cried. She was BF somewhere between on demand and schedule (it would just evolve into a schedule). 2nd one had reflux but screamed all the time (still can scream loud at 14 mos but she is happy) – screamed to BF, screamed while burping, screamed when tired. The only place she could sleep was in the moby while swaddled the first few months. Again did the same method of BFing for her. Each child can be so different even if you use the same methods.

    All in all though I do agree with BFing on demand – that’s what we were designed to do 🙂

  28. Love this! I could’ve written this word for word. I get a lot of people telling me that I’m teaching my daughter bad habits since I still nurse on demand and to sleep. Usually I bite my tongue, but sometimes I refer to the African tribes and tell them how happy my baby is, and how she rarely cries.

    I also have to say that nursing on demand made the newborn phase super easy to live through! I can’t imagine not nursing on demand.

  29. I feed on demand just because that felt natural, along with co sleeping. I didn’t even know there was a term for on demand feeding. My baby is very happy only cries when she can read my stress or her gums hurt. I try my best to be a relaxed Mom and things go great. I am very lucky.

  30. i find it interesting Sarah asked to not judge someone with a crying baby, yet that is all she is doing!

  31. I nursed my baby on demand until he was, well…I won’t say how long, and I do believe that it helped my baby be a happy and content newborn, infant, baby. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  32. Great article & comments. Question for you mama’s that feed in a sling/wrap/carrier – what kind do you use? We have a Moby and I’ve not been able to figure out nursing in it.

  33. Ashley, thanks for sharing your heart and knowledge with us! Your story reminds me of when I was breastfeeding my baby girl and I was with my friends and Mira was breastfeeding when she got hungry. Well, I breastfed her and she was finished in just a in few minutes. That’s all she needed at that point. They said, “Don’t you need to nurse her for longer so she won’t be doing that all day?” This was my first baby and I wasn’t around other breastfeeding moms yet, so I was going on sheer motherly instinct. So, I sat there puzzled and said, “Well no, because that’s all she’s hungry for right now.” I questioned myself for a moment, then decided to go with what felt natural and what Mira needed. I’m glad I did. A month or so later, I found the API group in Nashville and attended a few meetings before we moved to Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, I met Ashley. What a relief! I was nursing my 1 or 2 year old at church in a separate room for nurslings. I felt a bit nervous, but still was riding on my instincts. Ashley introduced herself and instantly made me feel at ease with what I had chosen – to listen to my instincts and my baby. Thanks, Ashley! Every little bit helps from our world of friends, whether from the internet or in person. I made the decision to continue to breastfeed my daughter. She is now 4 1/2 years old. I’m taking our relationship day by day. Some days I want to quit and some days I’m so grateful she hasn’t weaned yet. So thanks Ashley for being a huge support in my breastfeeding journey with my daughter.

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