Important notice: Breastfeeding is best for babies and has many benefits for both you and your baby. It is important that you eat a healthy well-balanced diet in preparation for and during breastfeeding. Follow on milk should only be used as part of a mixed diet from 6 months. Talk to a healthcare professional.
As a new parent, you want to do everything in your power to ensure that your baby is happy and healthy. From choosing the best products to doing the right things for them, every decision you make can have an impact on your little one's well-being and that can feel like a hefty burden!
But when it comes to feeding, there's one approach that stands out above the rest: responsive feeding. This powerful technique not only helps promote healthy growth and development but also fosters a strong bond between you and your baby. Here, we cover a description of responsive feeding, the benefits and how to do it.
What is responsive feeding?
Responsive feeding is all about attuning to your baby’s cues and responding in a way that meets their needs. It is not a rigid set of rules, but rather a philosophy of parenting that values the baby’s lead. This helps to instill a trusting bond and a healthy relationship with food from very early on.
When you are responsive to your baby’s cues, you are more likely to meet their needs. This, in turn, can help them develop a positive relationship with food and their own bodies.
There are many different aspects to responsive feeding, but some of the key elements include:
- Allowing your baby to eat when they are hungry and stopping when they show signs of being full
- Respecting your baby’s pace and allowing them to take breaks during feeds if they need to
- Following your baby’s lead in terms of how much food they eat – letting them decide if they want more or less
- Avoiding using food as a reward or punishment
- Responding sensitively to your baby’s mood and emotional state during feeds
If you can tune into your baby’s individual needs and respond accordingly, then you are practicing responsive feeding. It is the best way to ensure that your little one grows up happy and healthy.
Benefits of responsive feeding
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every baby is different, and will have different needs when it comes to how often they eat, what type of food they eat, and how much they eat. As a result, it's important to be responsive to your baby's cues. This means paying attention to when they're hungry, and offering them food when you think they're ready to eat.
There are many benefits to responsive feeding. First, it helps ensure that your baby is getting the nutrition they need. They'll be able to regulate their own intake based on their hunger cues, and won't overeat or under-eat. Second, responsive feeding can help prevent obesity later in life. Studies have shown that babies who are responsive- fed are less likely to become obese as adults.
Finally, responsive feeding fosters a strong bond between parent and child. When you're attuned to your baby's cues and responding to them in a sensitive way, you're creating an emotional connection that will last a lifetime.
How to do it: breastfeeding on demand
Breastfeeding provides optimal nutrition for your baby and is tailored to your baby specifically. And ‘on demand’ breastfeeding is recommended, this means following your baby’s feeding cues and lead. Especially during the first six weeks when breastfeeding is being established. It can feel like all you’re doing is feeding as babies can cluster feed or want to be on the breast for a while. This can lead mums to think they don’t have enough milk or that their baby is extra hungry and they need to top them up to fill them up. This is in fact very rarely the case and frequent feeding is part of normal newborn behavior - it does not indicate there is a problem with supply or that a baby isn't getting enough.
If your baby is alert when awake, waking for feeds, you’re getting lots of wet and dirty nappies - those are all signs your baby is really well fed so you don’t need to top up and may continue feeding on demand.
That said, it’s not always easy. Here are some tips to help support you:
- Get comfortable. Find a position that works for you and your baby. You may need to experiment a bit to find what works best.
- Use a pillow. A pillow can help support your back and keep you comfortable while you feed.
- Relax. Try to relax and let your baby latch on without forcing it. If you’re tense, your baby may sense it and may make latching on more difficult for the both of you.
- Be patient. It may take a few tries before your baby gets the hang of breastfeeding.
- Responsively feed your baby, rather than expect them to go for longer periods without feeding. Babies can get hungry very quickly and it takes time for them to get into a feeding routine. Being guided by their hunger rather than set hours in the day is best.
- Look for early hunger cues, in the early weeks these maybe rooting, opening and closing the mouth, looking around, thumb sucking or sucking anything they can get their mouth on! Then later on crying. Try to spot the earlier cues if you can.
How to do it: bottle feeding
Bottle feeding is often thought of as simple but there are actually a few key things you need to do to ensure that your baby is responsively fed. Here are a few tips:
- Hold your baby close to you while they feed. This will help them feel safe and secure, and also allow you to bond with them as they will often gaze at the person feeding them.
- Make sure the teat of the bottle is filled with milk before giving it to your baby. This will prevent them from sucking in air and getting wind.
- Burp your baby frequently during and after feeds. This will help them expel any air bubbles that they may have swallowed during the feed and hopefully reduce the chance of gas building up.
- Never prop up a bottle for your baby to feed unattended. This can lead to choking or aspiration if the milk flows too fast for them to handle.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and sterilizing bottles and teats before each use. This will ensure that your baby's food is free of harmful bacteria.
- Ensure you look at cues your baby is becoming full and never encourage them to finish a bottle, as tempting as it may be. How to know if your baby is ready for solids
How to know if your baby is ready for solids
It can be difficult to know when your baby is ready to start solid foods. However, there are a few telltale signs that your baby is ready to begin the weaning process. If your baby is around 6 months old, able to sit up independently and has good head control, showing interest in your food or trying to grab food, they’re not thrusting their tongue (and therefore pushing food out of their mouth) when they eat, they are probably physically ready to begin weaning.
If you are unsure whether or not your baby is ready for solid foods, it is best to chat to your health visitor. They will be able to give you specific guidance based on your child's development and health.
Tips for successful responsive feeding during weaning
- Start with small, frequent feedings. It's better to have your baby eat a little bit more often than to have them eat large meals less frequently.
- Let your baby control the pace of eating. Don't try to force your baby to eat faster or slower than they want to. Meal times are an entire sensory experience for babies - there are different colours, textures and so on. Try to let them enjoy the experience
- Be patient and try to avoid getting frustrated. Easier said than done, especially if they’re making more mess than eating and re-decorating your walls with food! If your baby is having a hard time eating, take a break and try again later.
- Pay attention to your baby's cues. Watch for signs that your baby is hungry or full, and respond accordingly.
- Be flexible and willing to adjust your approach as needed. What works for one baby may not work for another, so be prepared to make changes as necessary.
Responsive feeding is a great way to support the unique growth and development of your baby. It promotes a healthy relationship between you and your baby, encourages better eating habits, reduces fussiness around mealtime (perhaps not immediately but this should come), supports good physical and mental health, and helps them stay emotionally balanced around food. By being aware of the signs that show when your baby is hungry or full, you can ensure that they receive the optimal nutrition to thrive.