Responsive feeding: what is it, how to do it and the benefits

by motherandbaby |
Published on

Whatever your method, feeding your baby will be a big part of both you and your little one's life for a good few months, so it's worth finding a routine that works for you. If you're breastfeeding, you may have heard of something called responsive feeding.

What is responsive feeding?

"Responsive feeding is when a mother responds to her baby's feeding cues, and well as her own desire to feed her child. It helps the mother and baby interaction to be more instinctive allowing frequent feeding to take place," explains Eilis Mackie, Lead for Lactation and Infant Feeding at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK. "Responsive breastfeeding is a very useful tool to calm and soothe your baby. If a baby is unwell or in pain, breastfeeding can help offer reassurance."

How to do responsive feeding

"Responsive feeding is about feeding your baby when it suits you and your baby, or when you baby is showing signs of being hungry or distressed. For many mothers, this style of feeding becomes instinctive," says Eilis.

"All babies and mothers have different wants and needs, and some babies may need to feed more frequently than a perceived ‘normal’ pattern dictates. This can leave a baby feeling unsatisfied and may affect a mother’s milk supply. Rather than sticking to a set routine, with responsive feeding, feeds can be long or short and at varying times in the day.

While breastfeeding, it’s important to hold your baby close to you."

The benefits of responsive feeding

There are plenty of benefits of responsive feeding. "As well as helping to establish a close bond between you and your baby, responsive feeding is designed to make lives easier for new parents," says Eilis. "With responsive feeding, you can feed your baby around your schedule, when they are hungry or to soothe emotional distress.

You also get to know your baby very quickly and can detect quite early on if your little one is ill. It also helps with milk supply."

How will I know when my baby wants to feed?

If your baby is hungry and wants to feed, they might display some of the following signs:

  • Rooting (baby moving his head towards mother)

  • Turning their head and opening their mouths

  • Sucking on their hand

  • Restlessness

  • Opening their mouth

  • Crying is a last resort

Responsive bottle feeding

Unfortunately, responsive feeding is not possible when bottle feeding, as it is possible to overfeed your baby.

"However, if you are bottle-feeding, you can follow the advice and guidance of responsive bottle feeding. Try to mimic it as closely as possible, ensuring that you tune into and follow the baby’s cues if they are hungry or unsettled, says Eilis. "Paced formula feeding is recommended as this allows the baby to determine the amount of feed they get. It is recommended that only the parents feed the baby initially as this helps with enhancing /reinforcing parent-baby attachment."

If you are concerned about overfeeding, don’t force your baby to finish their bottle of milk if they don’t seem to want it anymore. "You can also use other methods to soothe your baby, such as skin-to-skin contact or cuddling. Ensuring that you respond to their need for love and attention will help you to establish a close bond."

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