Am I feeding baby enough? You’ll know with responsive feeding

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There are some things that just come naturally to us. Like when you’re standing by someone holding a baby and you start swaying while you’re talking to them. Sometimes feeding our sweet baby is like that and sometimes it’s just not that intuitive. There are two main times in early feeding that can be a challenge for new parents—milk-feedings and beginning solid foods.

Babies can’t tell us they’re hungry or full, but they can show us.

Whether baby is being fed breast milk, infant formula, or a combination of the two, parents can often wonder if baby is getting enough to eat. When an infant is eating formula or breast milk from a bottle we can see that a certain number of ounces were consumed. If breastfeeding, it can be a bit harder to tell how much baby ate because there is no visual of milk consumed. No matter the method of feeding, baby can give us clues about being hungry or full.

Babies are born with an innate self-regulation system. We’ve all likely experienced hearing the cry of a hungry baby or seeing baby bob his head for the bottle or breast when they’re ready to feed. Once baby has had enough to satisfy her tiny little stomach, you’ll see her fall away from the bottle or breast. Some days baby may drink the whole amount in the bottle and leave some behind on other days. This fluctuation in intake is normal. If we’re watching carefully, we can support baby’s keen sense of being hunger and satisfaction, which is called responsive feeding.

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding

Responsive feeding allows baby to decide how much to eat. When baby is ready for solids the support can continue by allowing baby to self-feed solids or by using a spoon-feeding method that lets baby determine when to stop eating (even if there are just two more bites). Parents and infants have their own roles called the Division of Responsibility in Feeding. The DOR was developed by registered dietitian and feeding expert, Ellyn Satter. In the infant stage of feeding, it suggests that the parents’ role in feeding is to determine what food is offered and baby decides how much he or she will eat. Once baby moves onto solid first foods (keeping in mind milk-based feedings are the primary source of nutrition for the first year), the roles expand a bit. When solid foods become a steady source of intake for baby, he or she decides if he or she will eat from what is offered and how much. Parents and caregivers have the role of deciding what food is offered, when the food is offered, and where the food is offered. Baby takes care of the eating part.

What about baby’s growth?

There are many developmental check-ups for baby in the first year. Most visits include an evaluation to determine if baby is meeting milestones and growing well. It’s reassuring to see baby follow a nice curve on the growth chart but this isn’t always the case. However, research suggests that it is normal for babies to have shifts up or down on their growth curves within the first six months, and even up to two years of age. If baby is eating well, making dirty diapers, and meeting developmental milestones, it’s usually not necessary to make changes to eating patterns.

Just remember, we as parents know our babies and family histories the best. Like adults, babies come in all shapes and sizes. Supporting responsive feeding can help baby find just the right path for growth while developing a healthy relationship with food for a lifetime.

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