According to recent research undertaken by Essex and Oxford Universities, using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, demand-fed babies have higher IQs than babies fed to a schedule. They are also more likely to get better results in school. The study followed 10,000 babies born in and around the Bristol area during the early 1990s.

The research looked at mothers who had followed 3 different styles of timetable when feeding their babies:

  • Those who had fed their babies on demand (eg fed their babies when they were hungry and crying for their food
  • Those who had attempted but failed to stick to a schedule
  • Those who had fed their babies according to a schedule

The results say that children who were fed on demand have higher IQs at age 8 and get better results in SATs at ages 5, 7, 11 and 14. The IQ level could be as much as 4 or 5 points higher than a classmate who was fed according to a schedule. Those babies whose mothers attempted but failed to stick to a schedule had very similar results to those babies who had been demand fed.

The study took into account social and background factors such as the education of the parents, the family income, age and sex of the baby, the health of the mother and parenting styles. It found that those mothers who chose to feed to a schedule tended to be younger, less well educated, by single and often social tenants. The mothers who had failed to stick to the schedule also shared these characteristics/factors, but their babies had IQs as high as the demand-fed babies, which gives significant weight to the result of the study.

What is interesting to note is that when discussing how we feed babies, there is usually much debate about breast over bottle, but in this particular study the evidence appears to show that the elevated IQ level in a demand-fed baby is apparent regardless of whether the baby was breast or bottle-fed.

It’s not all bad for the parents that chose to stick to a schedule, such as the type that Gina Ford swears by. The report concludes that these parents were much less likely to be exhausted, as they get more sleep and that they get more enjoyment out of parenting than those who feed on demand.

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