Groceries for Life!
by Rachel Lilly
Imagine you've won free groceries for life from the store
across the street from your home. There are only two restrictions:
you may only have one bag of groceries per trip to the
store, and you may only get your groceries at that store.
This is a great deal! Wow! You are so excited. Your family
eats well and is able to pay down the mortgage with your
savings from not buying food. It's not at all a hassle
to run across the street everyday or every other day to
fill your one sack with the items that are running low
in your pantry.
The store changes ownership and agrees to honor the previous
contest rules with only one change: you can only make
one trip to the grocery per week. You can still get all
the groceries you want for free, but you are limited to
one bag per trip, and your trips are limited to one per
week. This isn't as great as the old arrangement, but
if you plan well and pack the sack well, your family won't
be hungry very often. After all, you have agreed to not
get groceries from anywhere else, so you'll have to make
After a few months the store changes ownership again
and the new owner wants to change the revised agreement.
The new owner will continue to give you free groceries,
but you can only fill one sack, you can only shop at his
store, and you can only come to the store on the first
Friday of each month. He explains that it is easier for
him to staff his store if he knows when you are going
Sticking to the agreement to shop only at this store,
you find that if you fill your bag with rice and beans,
your family doesn't often go hungry. However, after a
couple of months you notice that there aren't enough bags
of rice and beans to fill your sack. Twelve bags of each
will fit in your sack, but lately the store never has
more than four bags at a time. You fill your sack with
other foods, but they don't last as long and your family
goes hungry and begins to lose weight.
This cannot continue. The next month when you are allowed
to go to the store, you speak with the manager about there
not being enough rice and beans for you to buy. The manager
explains that the store is on a weekly replenishment system
and he cannot override the automatic ordering. What happened
is that you bought twelve bags of rice and beans the first
month, and the automatic ordering system then ordered
another twelve bags for the next week. But you didn't
come in and buy twelve bags. Other customers purchase
3-4 bags a week, so the rice and beans sell down to four
bags and the replenishment system maintains that level.
Even if the store manager could get twelve bags of both
rice and beans in the store, by the time you came back
to the store the next month, the replenishment system
would have allowed the stock the dwindle to just four
bags. You explain to the store manager that it isn't your
fault - you are only allowed to come to the store once
a month! The manager is sympathetic to your plight, but
he says there's nothing he can do. You have a problem,
and you don't know how to fix it. Your hands feel tied.
Breastfed babies whose parents practice parent-directed
feeding (PDF) as popularized by Babywise are in a similar
situation to the contest winner after the rules have been
changed a few times.
Babies' stomach capacities are limited (their "one
grocery sack") and exclusively breastfed babies have
only one source of nutrition (their "one grocery
store"). These two facts alone don't create problems.
As with the grocery store analogy, the problem with PDF
lies in spacing out the "trips" to the breast
without regard to baby's caloric needs and the breast's
Breastfeeding is the healthiest feeding method for babies,
and it works best when baby is allowed to determine when
to go to the breast. Some babies can grow well on a 3
hour PDF schedule. They are doing well despite parent-directed
feeding, not because of it. In the free-groceries analogy
you were able to feed your family reasonably well just
going to the store once a week, though it was much easier
to do so going once a day. What if you had a family of
eight instead of a family of four? Going to the store
only once a week would have created hunger sooner for
your family. That is the problem with parent-directed
feeding: it doesn't allow any room for deviation if you
have a smaller-than-average "grocery sack" or
have a "larger-than-average family". And PDF
completely ignores the fact that "grocery stores"
(the mother's breasts) have a set replenishment cycle
that cannot be overridden to ensure adequate milk supply.
You cannot predict your baby's caloric needs because
you cannot accurately predict your baby's growth rate.
Baby's ideal height and weight is pre-programmed in his
DNA, and you aren't privy to that information. You cannot
pre-determine how much or how often your baby will need
to breastfeed to grow to his potential. Therefore it is
best to allow baby to decide when to nurse. His body will
tell him when he is hungry, and you will soon learn his
hunger cues. Don't be the grocery store owner! Telling
your baby how often he can eat could have minimal consequences
or it could have dire consequences --and because an undernourished
baby can look a lot like a "good" baby who sleeps
a lot and is complacent -- you wouldn't know until it
was too late to avoid the problem. Trust your baby to
know when he is hungry and respond to his hunger cues
by putting him to the breast.
Rachel Lilly lives with her husband and two children
in Tennessee, USA. Before she became a mother, she was
the Director of Merchandise Replenishment for a national
retailer (hmmm.... maybe that's why the paragraph about
rice and bean replenishment is so detailed?). She holds
a Masters of Business Administration and a Bachelor's
degree in Marketing.
For more information on the impact of scheduled feedings
upon milk supply, please see Examining
the Evidence for Cue feeding of Breastfed Infants
by Lisa Marasco, BA, IBCLC and Jan Barger, MA, RN, IBCLC