By Joanna Manero
When you are a new parent, it seems like there are a lot of things you can get wrong. Every few years there are new recommendations made about pacifiers, blankets in the crib, which side to lay the baby on, whether you should swaddle, and the list goes on. Another term that is often used in the new parenting books is “responsive feeding”. Responsive feeding is the reciprocal communication between a child and caregiver. The child expresses to the caregiver when they are hungry and full. The caregiver responds by feeding or ending a meal accordingly.
Although it may sound like a straight forward task, often times, parents worry that their child or infant is not eating enough. However, children are born with cues for hunger and satiety. If these cues are ignored, and the child is forced to eat past what their bodies tell them is enough, it may be hard for them to regulate intake thereafter. Simply put, it is the parent’s responsibility to provide a safe environment, and a healthy meal and snack options that are developmentally appropriate for the child. It is the child’s responsibility to decide when, and how much to eat.
Many of us remember being part of the “Clean Plate Club”, as our parents told us to clean our plate, and we obediently did so. For me, this message is still engrained in my head. In adulthood, this has caused me to be more aware of how much I serve myself, as I will likely finish whatever is on my plate. Luckily, we can at least influence the next generation.
Responsive feeding is a practice that is ideally established at birth, but what does this look like in the early months?
Birth to 6 months
- Child- The child will signal hunger through sucking their thumb, opening their mouth, waking and tossing, crying and fussing, and facial expressions. When the child is full, they will seal their lips, turn away, spit out, fall asleep, or become distracted.
- Caregiver- The caregiver’s responsibility is to respond to, and learn the infant’s signals by feeding the infant and stopping when they have reached satiety.
6 to 12 months
- Child- Hunger cues will look like reaching for food, pointing at food, getting excited when food is present, expressing a desire for a specific food with words and sounds. Satiety cues may look like shaking their head “no”.
- Parent- Respond to the child’s signals, incorporate increased texture, variety, and taste to mealtimes as they transition into semi-solids and solids. Parents should also encourage a child at their attempts to self-feed.
- Child- By now, the hunger and satiety cues should become more vocal, but similar to as above.
- Parent- Continue increasing food variety, and encouraging self-feeding behaviors. The child should be engaged in meal times with the family.
Did you practice responsive feeding with your child or children? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below. What are some hunger/satiety cues that we missed? If you’d like to learn more about this topic, please tune
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This blog was posted by Robin Allen, a member of the Military Families Learning Network (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team that aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the MFLN Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, and LinkedIn.