What is responsive feeding and how can it benefit your baby?

Registered dietician and head of Discovery Vitality’s Nutrition Strategy Candice Smith explains what responsive feeding is and how to implement this with your little one.


Responsive feeding refers to a relationship between an infant and the caregiver, where the baby’s feeding needs are communicated through verbal or non-verbal cues, and the caregiver responds appropriately.

Simply put, responsive feeding means that you read signs from your baby and feed him according to these signs.

Research shows that responsive feeding is associated with a lower risk of under-nutrition and over-nutrition, and lays the foundation for healthy-eating behaviour in later life. Babies who are fed responsively are fed patiently and on demand, and are allowed to stop when they indicate that they have had enough.

ALSO SEE: The pros and cons of demand feeding vs schedule feeding

Read the signs

All babies are different, but, most healthy babies communicate their need for food through crying, and communicate self-regulation and satiety by turning their heads away from a feed, spitting up a feed or showing signs of irritation. Older babies may communicate verbally and shake their head when they have had enough to eat.

ALSO SEE: 8 signs that your breast-fed baby is hungry

Act accordingly

For responsive feeding, it’s important to meet your baby’s expectations when it comes to feeding, and to avoid forced feeding during the first days of life and when introducing other foods when your child is older. Infants should be allowed to dictate when they feed.

Studies show that babies who were on a strict schedule rather than on-demand feeding were more unsettled. Paying attention to your baby’s hunger cues (fussing or crying), as well as learning the signs that your baby has had enough will enable you to feed your baby effectively.

Remember in the first four weeks or so, your baby’s feeding times may seem random, but they will start to become more regulated as he grows. On-demand feeding can provide a better quantity of milk and a shorter feeding period, and ensures your baby gains weight appropriately.

ALSO SEE: 5 ways to tell if your baby is getting enough milk

Strategies to enhance responsive feeding include:

  • Conversations and eye contact with your baby during feeding time
  • Clear communication
  • Response to hunger and satiety cues
  • Choosing the appropriate food, and using various methods of encouragement
  • Feeding in a pleasant and comfortable environment
  • Slow and patient feeding.
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