Infant feeding: the effects of scheduled vs. on-demand feeding on mothers' wellbeing and children's cognitive development

Eur J Public Health. 2013 Feb;23(1):13-9. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cks012. Epub 2012 Mar 14.

Abstract

Background: Many popular childcare books recommend feeding babies to a schedule, but no large-scale study has ever examined the effects of schedule-feeding. Here, we examine the relationship between feeding infants to a schedule and two sets of outcomes: mothers' wellbeing, and children's longer-term cognitive and academic development.

Methods: We used a sample of 10,419 children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a cohort study of children born in the 1990 s in Bristol, UK. Outcomes were compared by whether babies were fed to a schedule at 4 weeks. Maternal wellbeing indicators include measures of sleep sufficiency, maternal confidence and depression, collected when babies were between 8 weeks and 33 months. Children's outcomes were measured by standardized tests at ages 5, 7, 11 and 14, and by IQ tests at age 8.

Results: Mothers who fed to a schedule scored more favourably on all wellbeing measures except depression. However, schedule-fed babies went on to do less well academically than their demand-fed counterparts. After controlling for a wide range of confounders, schedule-fed babies performed around 17% of a standard deviation below demand-fed babies in standardized tests at all ages, and 4 points lower in IQ tests at age 8 years.

Conclusions: Feeding infants to a schedule is associated with higher levels of maternal wellbeing, but with poorer cognitive and academic outcomes for children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intelligence
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Maternal Welfare*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors
  • United Kingdom