What is responsive feeding?
Responsive feeding is when a mother recognises the signs of hunger and acts on them to initiate feeding only when the baby is hungry.
- All babies are born with the ability to feed intuitively
- They know when they are hungry and exhibit signs of hunger – these include licking/smacking of the lips, opening and closing of the mouth, putting fingers in the mouth and sucking on the fists
- When a baby’s stomach is full its brain produces a signal to stop feeding – helping the infant to self-regulate their intake
- The baby also exhibits signs that indicate when they are full – such as looking sleepy or ‘drunk’, calmness, pushing the teat away and losing interest in the feed
Why is responsive feeding important?
Responsive feeding allows an infant to feed according to their own appetite and physiological needs and can protect against overfeeding and associated long-term outcomes.
- In responsive feeding a caregiver will recognise and act on a baby’s initial hunger cues and their satiety cues at the end of the feed
- They will initiate feeding when the baby is hungry, not when they are distressed
- It is thought that not recognising or understanding an infant’s satiety cues may contribute to overfeeding in infancy
- Rapid growth in infancy may contribute to later risk of obesity
- The importance of responsive feeding is recognised by Unicef1, WHO2, NHS3 and RCN4
Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative top tips for responsive bottle-feeding1
Parents are encouraged to:
1. Respond to cues that their baby is hungry.
2. Invite the baby to draw in the teat rather than forcing the teat into the mouth.
3. Pace the feed so that the baby is not forced to feed more than they want.
4. Recognise their baby’s cues that they have had enough milk.
- Guide to the baby friendly initiative standards. Unicef. Available here. (Accessed December 2016).
- WHO, nutrition, complementary feeding. Available here. (Accessed December 2016).
- NHS Choices - your breastfeeding questions answered. Available here. (Accessed December 2016).
- Royal College of Nursing, formula feeds, 2016.