Babies are Smarter if Fed on Demand

Many people believe that infants need to be on a schedule. This is called the parent-led approach to child rearing. They believe this leads to happier babies because they know what to expect.  There are a variety of child rearing books that expound this theory.

Prior to the resent study done in the UK, there had been no research to back up this view. At the other end of the spectrum are the proponents of child-led approach, among them Dr. Benjamin Spock.  The theory here is that parents need to be in tune with their child and let the child lead the way when it comes to determining their schedule.  

Researchers have recently published a paper entitled, “Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers’ wellbeing and children’s cognitive development”  in the journal of the  European Public Health Association.

For this study, researchers from the University of Essex and University of Oxford compared the results of IQ tests and SATs results of children aged between five and 14.  They compiled their data from an Avon Longitudinal study of more than 10,000 children born in the early 1990s in Bristol, England. The researchers asked the mothers in the study about the feeding habits of their infants when they were four weeks old. Were they fed on schedule or were they fed when they demanded it. They also questioned the mothers about their own sleeping ability and feelings of well-being.

The results of these questions seem to indicate at the age of eight, the children who had been fed on demand had an IQ that was 4 to 4 points higher than those who were fed on a schedule. It made no difference whether the infant had been bottle fed or breast fed.

According to lead researcher, Maria Iacovou, of  the University of Essex,  “Taking into account a wide range of background factors that include parents’ educational level, family income, the child’s sex and age, maternal health and parenting styles, the research finds that demand-feeding is associated with higher IQ scores at age eight, and this difference is also evident in the results of SATs tests at ages five, seven, 11 and 14.”

There were some benefits to be derived from the scheduled feeding, it made the mothers feel more confident and have a higher level of well-being. The study does however, leave many questions unanswered. There are several studies in other countries currently being conducted and it is hoped that there will be additional information available to cover all aspects of this issue.  It appears from the study that demand fed babies may have higher IQs, but schedule fed babies have happier mothers.