Parent Directed Feeding (Babywise PDF) Explained

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Learn why the Babywise PDF (Parent Directed Feeding) philosophy is so empowering and enables parents to help babies sleep through the night young.

Mother holding new baby

Parent Directed Feeding (PDF) is a basic point to understand when following On Becoming Babywise. This feeding theory is one of my favorite parts about the infant sleep book On Becoming Babywise. Baby Wise is set up so that the parent decides what is best for the baby. PDF gives parents the freedom to adjust the sleep schedule and feeding schedule for the individual baby.

So what exactly is PDF?

PDF is an acronym for Parent Directed Feeding. As Babywise puts it, “PDF is the center point between hyper-scheduling on one extreme and attachment parenting at the other” (page 36).

Hyperscheduling is a feeding philosophy that basically says, “you will feed your baby every three hours.” That is it. No caveats. No, “unless….” Just every three hours (or whatever time table has been set). This is done no matter what other cues are present. The clock rules the feeding schedule.

This is what many people erroneously believe the Babywise method to be. Babywise is not hyperscheduling. It is Parent Directed Feeding.

Attachment Parenting is more than would fit on one post, but so far as feeding goes, you basically offer baby the breast every time baby cries, even if it has been only 10 minutes since baby last finished eating. Time is of no consequence. Many attachment parents will say that they know baby isn’t really eating much if it has been 10 minutes since he just ate. That isn’t really the point of them offering the breast.

Babywise PDF Parent Directed Feeding

Parent Directed Feeding is the center point between hyperscheduling and attachment parenting. That means it falls in the middle. With PDF, parents consider both the cries of the baby and clock. That means sometimes, you will be feeding baby sooner than the “clock” says it is time. That also means you will sometimes be feeding your baby before she cries to be fed. Parents are to “use parental assessment to decide when to feed based on actual need” (page 37).

Read: Babywise Instructs Parents to Feed Baby When Hungry

Page 39 reveals the simple equation for the PDF parent:

Hunger Cue + Clock + Parental Assessment = Feeding Time

So what does that mean in non-mathematical terms?

This is an equation to tell you when you should feed your infant. 

Mother holding new baby with text overlay

Parental Assessment Explained

Parental Assessment is you. You are the parent. You analyze the situation and make an intelligent decision based on what you see and what you know. You factor in many variables.

You know what? Sometimes you will be wrong. Sometimes you will think, “My baby is hungry.” And when you try to feed her, she will refuse to eat. You will take that and apply it to your experience base and try to remember that the way she was acting does not mean that she is hungry.

Sometimes you will think, “She isn’t hungry. She is tried.” And after you spend 15 minutes trying to get her back to sleep, you will come to realize she probably is hungry, so you will feed her and she will eat a full meal.

So parental assessment doesn’t mean “without mistakes.” You are human. You will mess up sometimes. Take it as added experience. Learn from it. As you get to know your individual baby better, you will get it right more often. Just correct your mistake, learn from it, and move on.

The Clock Explained

The clock is an amount of time that has passed since the last feeding. For a normal weight, healthy newborn, you will know she will need to eat about every 2.5-3 hours. You keep track of when she is eating and factor that in while you are making your parental assessment.

Having regular feeding intervals is one of my 9 points in my post How To Do Babywise. Consistency is very important. With that said, be sure you are setting up a baby feeding schedule that is best for your baby. There can be a variation to your intervals. If baby is always hungry at 2.5 hours rather than 3 hours between two certain feedings, make that interval part of the routine. 

Read: How To Feed a Sleepy Newborn

Hunger Cues Explained

There is also the factor of hunger cues. Is she acting hungry or not? These cues include crying, waking up, and rooting. Your baby might have other cues, also.

Sometimes, you will be feeding baby sooner than the normal 2.5-3 hours. That is fine. That is 100% normal–especially during growth spurts. Sometimes you will be waking your baby up at 3 hours to eat. Again, normal for some babies.

Read: Reasons for Feeding Sooner than 2.5 Hours

Sleepy babies might not signal for food. McKenna didn’t for a long time. Other times, you will attempt to wake your baby up at 3 hours and she will refuse to wake up. Try not to stress out about it. Give her another 30 minutes and try again.

How To Use All Three Factors

Now you understand each factor in the Parent Directed Feeding theory (or PDF). Let’s look at the equation again:

Hunger Cue + Clock + Parental Assessment = Feeding Time

As you are assessing when to feed baby, keep in mind “When hunger cue is present, the clock is submissive to the cue, because the hunger cues, not the clock, determine feedings” (page 40).

This means that if you are planning to feed at 3 hours and the clock says 2.5, but baby is hungry, the hunger cue wins and you feed baby at 2.5 hours. 

Get your copy of the Babywise books here:

On Becoming Pottywise
On Becoming Teenwise
On Becoming Preteenwise
On Becoming Childwise
On Becoming Preschoolwise
On Becoming Toddlerwise
On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise
On Becoming Babywise Book 2
On Becoming Babywise
On Becoming Pottywise
On Becoming Teenwise
On Becoming Preteenwise
On Becoming Childwise
On Becoming Preschoolwise
On Becoming Toddlerwise
On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise
On Becoming Babywise Book 2
On Becoming Babywise


Following Parent Directed Feeding is a great way to set up solid sleep schedules. Your little one will get hunger patterns stabilized and be able to take great naps and have a predictable schedule. 

Set a daily schedule. Plan out when baby will eat and when baby will sleep.

Follow that as closely as possible. When baby shows hunger cues that interfere with your schedule (or the clock), you assess and decide if baby is indeed hungry. If so, you feed baby. As the parent, you always have the freedom to adjust baby’s schedule for what baby needs in any given moment. 

That is the beauty of the Babywise PDF method. This is why Babywise works. You feed baby when hungry. Only when hungry. If baby isn’t hungry, you do not offer food to try to soothe the crying baby. If baby is hungry, you feed baby. Because you are listening to baby’s actual needs, you are able to set baby up to achieve milestones like sleeping through the night at a much younger age than she would if you ignored her needs in either direction. 

Babywise sets you up for success!


How to Do Babywise

How to do Babywise tips from the Babywise Mom. How to use the Babywise method to get baby sleeping. Everything you need to be successful with Baby wise!

Mother holding new baby with text overlay

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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook


  1. A Wee Irish Family
    August 30, 2010 / 7:22 PM

    I have a question about this. I am working on stretching my daughter's feedings out. She is almost 12 weeks old and for the first 11 weeks of her life, she ate every 2 hours during the day (but STTN with a DF since week 8 or so). I got pretty tired of that schedule, and there is no reason for it! Therefore, I have been pushing her to 2.25-2.5 hours between feedings. She hasn't really needed the "push"… even with larger intervals, she doesn't act hungry. I know she's at an age where a lot of babies start shifting from a 2.5-3 hour schedule to a 3-3.5 hour schedule, or even longer! My issue has been that when I stretch her feedings apart, she's still waking earlier from naps than she "should" in order to eat every 2.25 or 2.5 hours. She's ending up with 20 minutes or so of waketime prior to eating, then 20 minutes of eating, and then 15-20 minutes of waketime after eating. I have really tried to be OK with this, and to hope that her naps will start to fall closer within the correct range, but they're not really doing that. In fact, sometimes I feed her and then she's so tired that I have to put her down almost right away! On this schedule, she's getting 5 REALLY SHORT naps each and every day. Should I sacrifice the E/W/S even MORE in order to stretch her feedings to 3 hours? The nurse practitioner at my pediatrician's office seemed worried that DD's eating every 2 hours. She said she'd like to see her eating every 3-4 hours by now. Any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions would really help! Thanks!

  2. Plowmanators
    September 10, 2010 / 5:54 PM

    One post that will help you is called "eat, wake, sleep cycle" It talks about going as much as 30 minutes after baby wakes up before feeding.I would also look into the reason why she is waking early. See the post "naps: troubleshooting revised and updated". That will give you a long list. Be sure to pay special attention to the optimal waketime section.

  3. Lome
    February 16, 2011 / 10:53 AM

    Hi there! I am trying to put my 4 week old son on a baywise routine, but I'm really struggling. I breastfed for the first 2 weeks, and he was feeding every 3 hours – super! But I had to move him over to formula at week 3 and now he is feeding very inconsistently (varying between 2.5 and 4 hours). We changed the formula 2 days ago, because he was struggling with reflux and spitting up most of his milk. How can I get him to feed more consistently? Should I strech his shorter feedings? How?Also, I read somewhere that formula babies should feed every 3.5 – 4 hours instead of every 2.5-3 hours… what is your opinion on the ideal feeding time for formula babies?Last question:After I put him down for a nap, he generally wakes every 30-45 minutes into his nap. I'm not ready for CIO, since I don't really know the reason for him waking up so often. Could it be the reflux? Tummy cramps? His inconsistent routine? I'd really appreciate your advise on dealing with this!

  4. Plowmanators
    March 2, 2011 / 7:07 PM

    Lome, I would suggest you see the Reflux posts. A reflux baby won't necessarily fit perfectly into normal BW expectations (and most won't). If you go to the index, then scroll down to "reflux" you will find the posts on reflux.I haven't fed formula, but if I were to feed formula, I would still stick to the 2.5-3 hour in the beginning unless the baby obviously needed to go longer.He could be waking for lots of reasons…all of those are possible. See the "index by age" tab above and check out the newborn index. It will give you lots of newborn posts. See especially the "My sleep hierarchy for newborns" post.

  5. Rachel
    March 4, 2011 / 5:28 AM

    Hi, I just came across your blog and was doing some browsing. It looks like you spend a lot of time working on this, and that is very commendable. I wanted to say though, that your definition of Attachment Parenting in regards to eating, stated in the above article is really quite innacurate and oversimplified, though I know you mentioned you weren't going in depth in this specific post. Attachment Parenting is being in-tune with your baby and his or her needs.And responding to them appropriately. Not necessarily nursing them every time they make a peep, or as you stated to "offer baby the breast every time baby cries, even if it has been only 10 minutes since baby finished eating."

  6. Plowmanators
    March 21, 2011 / 9:54 PM

    That is interesting Rachel. Thanks for sharing that perspective. All AP moms I know say to feed baby every time baby cries, but that it is for "comfort" and not for food–so baby is comforted by nursing but not necessarily getting a real feeding. So thanks for sharing that there is another facet!

  7. lwicks
    April 10, 2011 / 2:13 AM

    I have a question that I wondered about with my first, and am still wondering the same with my second, so I figured I'd ask :o) I have the 4th edition of the BW I book (not sure which is the most recent), and on page 119 it gives a sample schedule for weeks 1-8. It doesn't completely make sense with the wording and a 3 hour schedule. Here's how it goes:-Early morning (includes waketime) – if we start our day at 7am, isn't that this feeding?-MidMorning – 10am-Afternoon – 1pm-Midafternoon – 4pm-Late afternoon – 7pm-Early evening – 10pm (sounds awfully late for an 'early evening' feeding); this one even says possible waketime, but how is that possible? Do you really have waketime after the 10pm feed?-Late evening (1am ish)If you have an explanation for how this is supposed to flow, I'd appreciate it!

  8. Plowmanators
    April 26, 2011 / 10:03 PM

    That is incorrect if that it exactly what it says. No waketime after the 10 PM feed. The older version called 10 the late evening. I bet it was just some mix up during updating and they didn't get wording changed. Also, after 10 PM, you won't wake at 1 am unless directed by a doctor.

  9. moralestwins
    July 14, 2012 / 2:45 PM

    We have 2 month old twins, born at 38 weeks. We are trying to follow your book to help them sleep through the night. For the most part, they are on the same schedule, but are only sleeping 4 hours or so at night. They eat 4oz at 6:30, only a couple at 8:30, then 4oz again at 10:30. Then they wake at 3am and eat 4oz then wake between 5:30 and 6am for a diaper change and will only eat an ounce or two. I'm having trouble getting them to stick to a schedule for the morning hours as well. Advice? I'm going to work in a month and want them sleeping through the night! Thank you!

  10. Amy C
    March 23, 2019 / 5:56 AM

    I’m trying to refresh on BW since I used it with my other 2, but have forgotten some principles of it and I have a little one coming soon. Do you time feedings from the start of one to the start of another, or do you time from the end of a feeding to the start of the next?

    • March 26, 2019 / 10:17 PM

      Start of one to the start of the next 🙂 Congrats on your new baby!

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