What is Responsive Feeding?

Feeding your baby can sometimes be a frustrating experience for new parents, primarily because babies lack the ability to verbally communicate their needs, as well as their approval or disapproval of certain foods. 

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An approach to mealtimes, called responsive feeding, can help parents recognize their baby’s needs for hunger and fullness, likes and dislikes, so they can respond accordingly.

Even though babies can’t yet speak, they are still able to make their needs known. When you actively engage with your baby during feeding, you can begin to read her signals and try to understand what they mean. All babies are individual, so close monitoring is necessary. Responsive feeding is an active and also an interactive process: paying attention to the baby while offering food, watching her reaction, learning cues, and responding promptly and supportively to her needs.

Responsive feeding helps children learn to recognize when they are hungry or full--which is an innate human skill. When you respond to your baby’s needs, you are teaching them to eat only when they are hungry. Responsive feeding helps children to become aware and become more certain of their body’s internal cues, starting them on the right path to healthy eating.

The healthy growth of our children, as well as their social, emotional, and intellectual development depends on the healthy eating patterns that begin in early childhood. Food likes and dislikes, dietary preferences and requirements, and future chances of obesity are all impacted by a baby’s initial responses to first meals, which develop between birth and 2 years of age.

Although it’s our responsibility as parents to ensure that our children are well-nourished, we should never force them to eat when food may be refused. Forcing your child to eat can actually backfire on you. Children can associate mealtime with anxiety, and become uneasy when it’s time to eat. Research points to links between forced early feedings and the development of eating disorders later in life. Although parents can become distressed when their baby rejects food, pediatricians advise that babies will make up for refused food later and ultimately get all the nutrients they require.

So what to do when babies refuse to eat? Provide choices. It may be unrealistic to expect your baby to eat a required amount on demand. Model healthy eating patterns and food choices. Let your baby take his time with eating and allow him to explore the food’s appearance, smell, and feel. Don’t give up on new foods right away, and keep reintroducing rejected foods as a choice. While flexibility with early feedings are key, start routines--such as eating in the same place--and use utensils and seats that are age-appropriate with which your baby feels comfortable.

For more information about responsive feeding, visit Healthy Eating Research’s site to read a full study of its benefits: