What is Responsive Feeding?

June 29, 2020

blog watch me bloom, recipes for growing me ~9 months, what is responsive feeding, close up of dad holding baby in kitchen, baby reaching for food on plate

Have you heard of the concept “responsive feeding” for your infant? I had not—before having my baby. But don’t worry, I bet you’ve intuitively put this concept into motion without even realizing it! 

Responsive feeding involves understanding your baby’s cues regarding feeding—and responding to them appropriately. 

It sets the foundation for healthy eating habits and leads to developing the skills necessary for self-control and management of food intake. This includes ‘responsive parenting’—the positive interactions you have with your baby (including, but not limited to food) that lead to a mutual understanding and bond that results in optimal feeding behaviours, as well as secure relationships and better cognitive and language development. [i] In contrast, non-responsive feeding practice is the lack of understanding between you and your baby—such as being uninvolved, too controlling, or negligent, and allowing too much food consumption. [ii]

Responsive feeding can look slightly different depending on the age of your little one. For example, at around 6 months when you are trying out different types of complementary foods, your infant might cry or be fussy when they’re hungry, open their mouth, spit out the food, or seem distracted. At around 9 months old they might reach for a spoon, point to food, or get excited when food is presented, and then shake their head when they are no longer interested. [iii]

Indian baby boy in highchair holding spoon, with squishy facial expression, playful with Dad

Responsive feeding practices have a positive effect on children, creating mutual trust between you and your baby. Your role is to offer a variety of healthy options, while their role is to signal when they are ready to start and stop feeding. Parents or caregivers can talk to their infants about food, model healthy food behaviours, play food games, and encourage their children (verbally and expressively) to try new, healthy foods. [iv] 

Here’s how you can practice responsive feeding:

  • Create a routine—this helps your baby know when and what to expect during mealtime and can help promote positive interaction between you and your baby
  • Watch for cues from your child—either facial expressions or body movements that signal a readiness or refusal for food
  • Respond to your infant in a supportive, warm, and appropriate manner—this will become predictable to your infant and helps build a trusting relationship [v]

And here are some things to avoid:

  • Letting your child control feeding and have constant access to food
  • Ignoring your child during feeding
  • Taking too much control and/or rewarding or punishing your child with food 
  • Watching TV during meals/allowing for distractions [vi] 

Dad watching baby feed himself banana on a fork while making eye contact

Tidbit for your Tiny One

Holding your infant during mealtime can restrict their mobility and freedom of initiating a positive or negative response towards food. Children with greater mobility during feeding time are more likely to initiate feeding and take bites of food. [vii]  Children who are distracted during meals (for example, watching TV) are more likely to be overweight and develop unhealthy eating habits. [viii]

The following recipe poem is an excerpt from our book series, Recipes for Growing Me ~9 months:

R is for...responsive feeding

Allow self-guidance
And encourage self-feeding
Provide eye contact and
Encourage without leading
Minimize distractions
And respond to my cues
Give me comfort and safety
Then provide all these do’s
Ensure new tastes are offered
And provide different texture
Now was that so bad
For a responsive feeding lecture?

*A note to the reader with preterm infants: There is inconclusive data regarding responsive feeding for preterm infants. Your health care team will develop a plan that is best for your baby and may prescribe enteral feeding at scheduled times for the best outcomes. [ix]

We hope we’ve contributed something beneficial to your baby’s diet, and remember…don’t hog the blog! Share with new moms today!

Have a bloomin’ day,
Sarah & Karen


*Bibliography:  

[i] Harbron, J., Booley, S., Najaar, B., Day CE, (2013). Responsive feeding: establishing healthy eating behaviours early on in life. South Aftrican Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 26 (3): 141-149. 

[ii] Shi, C, Li, N., Dong, J., Wang, L., Li, X., Ji, C., Wang, X., Chis, X., Guo, X., Tong, M, Zhang., M., (2017). Association between maternal nonresponsive feeding practice and child’s eating behavior and weight status: children aged 1 to 6 years. European Journal of Pediatrics; 176: 1603-1612. 

[iii] Harbron, J., Booley, S., Najaar, B., Day CE, (2013). Responsive feeding: establishing healthy eating behaviours early on in life. South Aftrican Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 26 (3): 141-149.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] DynaMed, (2017). Feeding the term infant: overview and recommendations. Dynamed. http://www.dynamed.com

[vii] Harbron, J., Booley, S., Najaar, B., Day CE, (2013). Responsive feeding: establishing healthy eating behaviours early on in life. South Aftrican Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 26 (3): 141-149

[viii] Shi, C, Li, N., Dong, J., Wang, L., Li, X., Ji, C., Wang, X., Chis, X., Guo, X., Tong, M., Zhang., M., (2017). Association between maternal nonresponsive feeding practice and child’s eating behavior and weight status: children aged 1 to 6 years. European Journal of Pediatrics; 176: 1603-1612.

[ix] Watson, J., McGuire, W. (2016). Responsive versus scheduled feeding for preterm infants (Review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 1-32. 


P.S. If you’d like to learn more about Watch Me Bloom, you can buy our Recipes for Growing Me ~6 months book, say hello on Facebook or follow us on Instagram. If you liked this blog, share it with a new mom. Reading this for the first time? Subscribe and receive a complimentary digital download of our ‘Love Me Forever’ Digital Print to frame in your nursery or child’s room.




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