The primary parenting goal during infancy is to form an attachment with your baby. This is easily done with feeding. Breastfeeding has been shown over and over to create an environment whereby mom and child attach, or bond. Bottle feeding can have the same benefits, if done with responsiveness.

Responsive feeding is the process of recognizing your baby’s cues for hunger and fullness and responding to them appropriately (feeding baby or stopping). This process is active and interactive. The parent is actively paying attention to baby while feeding, reading cues and sending them back to baby. Baby communicates with the parent simultaneously through demonstrated interest in eating or not.

Here’s a simple scenario of what responsive feeding looks like:

Baby: Fussing and whining
Parent: “You seem like you’re hungry—it’s time for lunch!”
Baby: Leans forward for first bite.
Parent: Feeds a bite of food and watches for baby’s response.
Baby: Leans forward again with mouth open.

This goes on for several rounds of back and forth with baby leaning in for another bite and parent feeding in response.   

Baby: Turns away from the spoon.
Parent: Tries to offer another bite.
Baby: Turns away and shakes head no.
Parent: “Is your belly happy? It looks like you’re telling me you are all done.”

The meal ends.

The first step in being responsive is to recognize your baby’s cues for hunger and fullness. Research shows that most parents are pretty good at recognizing their baby’s hunger, but not at recognizing fullness. In fact, many parents will continue to feed baby even after clear signs of fullness. Some parents try to get the baby to finish a bottle or polish off the baby food jar. By doing this, parents disregard baby’s natural instinct to stop eating. In the long run, overfeeding your baby increases the risk for overeating and weight problems.

Here are some common signs that baby is hungry or full:

Hungry

  • Fusses, whines or accelerates to crying
  • Gnawing on hands, fingers or thumb
  • Rooting

Full

  • Pulls off the breast or the bottle
  • Turns away from spoon
  • Bats at food
  • Swipes food off tray or throws food
  • Shakes head no.

Each baby has his or her own signs for hunger and fullness, and it pays to learn these early on. You won’t always get it right, but if you pay close attention and use responsive feeding, chances are you’ll be on the mark most of the time. The best thing? Responsive feeding encourages parent and child to connect at meal times, while baby learns to regulate his or her own appetite.

Takeaways

  • Responsive feeding is a way to understand your baby’s language at mealtime.
  • Responsive feeding allows baby to regulate his own appetite and eating, which has been associated with healthy weight status.
  • Understanding your baby’s hunger and fullness signals will help you be a better feeder.

References

  1. Rees. Childhood Attachment. 2007. Brit J Gen Pract; 57:920-922.
  2. Eneli et al. The Trust Model: A Different Feeding Paradigm for Managing Childhood Obesity. Obesity. 2008; 16:2197-2204.
  3. Black et al. Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. J Nutr. Published online January 26, 2011.
  4. Castle JL and Jacobsen MT. Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School. Jossey-Bass, 2013.

Comments

  1. Holly–3 bites at a meal probably isn’t enough…but, perhaps she’s ready to be more independent and try to feed herself with more table foods. I have seen a lot of babies get bored with purees and stop eating well.

    Reply
  2. My 8-mont-old is good at letting us know too, I guess I have just been worried she wasn’t eating enough. I mean, it would be like 3 spoonfuls for a meal and then she’d be done!

    Reply
  3. My daughter is 9 months old and is great at letting me know when she is hungry.When she is hungry i call her my baby bird! She opens up for bite after bite. Once she is full her lips are locked tight. She will slap the food from my hand if I try to feed her after that point. She has me trained well!

    Reply
  4. My 9 month old is very good about letting me know when she is full. She holds her mouth shut and turns her head away when I hold the spoon in front of her mouth. This morning she even attempted to swat my hand away. It’s nice to know when she’s had enough and avoid overfeeding her.

    Reply

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