Responsive Feeding

The way you feed your baby (your feeding style and the feeding behaviours that you adopt) can have a big impact on your child as they grow up. It can influence the way your child accepts food, it can influence their dietary intake and it can affect the growth of your baby and or child (Bentley et al., 2012).

Responsive feeding is a way of feeding your baby that will help your baby to establish healthy eating patterns early in life (Harbron et al., 2013). Responsive feeding is sometimes called  ‘feeding on demand’ or ‘baby-led feeding’ and simply describes the process of a caregiver/parent who immediately responds to their baby’s verbal (cry) or non-verbal (smacking their lips) signs that they are hungry or full.

A baby can communicate their hunger verbally (making noises, crying) or non-verbally (smacking their lips). If a baby is full they may turn their head away from the breast or bottle or cry if you try and reattach them to the breast. A parent or caregiver who recognises these signs and reacts immediately can be described as adopting a responsive feeding style. Responsive feeding has been found to have a number of health benefits such as lowering your baby’s risk of becoming overweight or obese when they are older.

Some parents think that feeding their baby is easy and instinctive. Often this is the case, but sometimes some behaviours that are ‘encouraged’ by society or family/friends might actually be classed as non-responsive feeding behaviours. Some behaviours such as controlling how much your baby eats or controlling when they have their milk are non-responsive feeding behaviours. By feeding your baby responsively you are teaching them to trust their own internal hunger and fullness cues later in childhood. There is evidence that babies and children who are fed responsively are more likely to adopt appropriate eating behaviours and less likely to suffer with weight related issues when they are older.

Responsive feeding does not mean offering your baby the breast or a bottle every time that they cry. It describes the process that a parent goes through when they immediately pay attention to their baby’s cry or non-verbal hunger/fullness cue and react appropriately.

Below are some behaviours that you can adopt when feeding your baby in order to do so responsively:

  • Actively engage in conversations and eye-contact with your baby during feeding times.
  • Clearly communicate your expectations of your baby
  • Responding to hunger and fullness cues
  • Feeding babies directly

It is important to have a pleasant environment whilst feeding. Your baby should be seated or placed on/by you in a comfortable and relaxed manner with minimal distractions.


You can still responsively feed your baby if you choose to bottle feed your baby (whether bottle includes expressed breast milk or formula)