The longer I nurse my son, the more I think that the term "breastfeeding on demand" might be suffering from a bit of a branding problem. Though breastfeeding on demand simply means nursing your child when they ask, and letting them decide when to stop the nursing session ("eat when you're hungry, stop when your full," the same food advice all people should follow), in the parenting world, the word "demand" is apparently more loaded than I thought. That's just one of several things I wish I'd known about breastfeeding on demand, because there are a lot of misunderstandings about it. As a result, people make a lot of assumptions about breastfeeding, and about the parenting styles of people who choose to do it, that aren't necessarily true.
In a probably pointless attempt to quiet the, "You're gonna spoil that child!" crowd, nursing on demand does not mean letting your child run your life or being overly indulgent. To use a possibly clunky analogy: when a baby or toddler eats on demand at Mama's Milk Diner, they're not forced to wait an hour or more to eat after ordering, and they won't have their food abruptly snatched from their mouths or their plates cleared away before they're done eating. Just like we'd be really pissed if we ate anywhere where people did that to us, so are babies and toddlers. (And unlike those of us who've become a bit more civilized over the years, babies and toddlers have no qualms whatsoever about screaming until they get what they need.)
Nursing your kid on demand doesn't mean that they'll be nursing forever, or that they're calling too many of the shots in the parent-child relationship. It just means they get a chance to get all the nourishment and comfort nursing is supposed to provide, and give your body a chance to make however much milk they need. Something else I've learned (or really, internalized) on the course of this journey, is that "on demand" changes a lot over time. When they're really small and having a growth spurt, "on demand" might mean every 45 minutes. Later on, "on demand" might just be when they first wake up and right before they go to sleep. When they're sick, it might be a lot more often than their normal, and when they get back to 100 percent, it might be less.
My big takeaway, though? If you let them latch when they first ask (and all children "ask," even if that just means rooting or mouthing their fists), and let them nurse until they're done, it's a lot simpler than trying to time or calculate if they're getting enough. Unless there's an identified problem, you really can just trust that your baby knows how to baby, and your boobs know how to boob. Now, if only I could get back the days I spent doubting myself needlessly...