Responsive Feeding: An Appropriate Approach for ALL Infants and Toddlers
Updated: Aug 18, 2019
There are so many reasons why feeding can get off track in the first few years of life. Concerns with weight gain and growth, oral motor incoordination, medical complications such as reflux, and even parent anxiety and/or depression will influence the feeding dynamic. No matter what leads to the path of stressful mealtimes, there is one way back, and that is to learn to be a responsive feeder.
In our daily practice, this is the approach we use and model for parents. Whether it is a newborn who needs the adult to pace her during bottle-feeding in order to avoid having her become overwhelmed or the older infant who can only handle a few bites of this new food we call puree, the principle is the same. Watch your child's cues closely, listen to what she tells you, and when she is done, let her be done. Trust your baby and teach her to trust you.
Fear plays a huge role in how we respond to our children during feeding. For the child who is not gaining weight and whose parents are told by the pediatrician that she needs to eat more so she should be fed as often and as much as possible, fear is always the reason why that parent ignores the baby's cues and pushes to get a few more ounces in. That is also the case with a child who gags when introduced to a puree as the parent's fear of choking leads to a scary response such as swiping food out of the mouth or quickly pulling the child out of the high chair. Some infants are just hard to "read" and the dynamic quickly breaks down as feeding is also one of the most important bonding experiences between parent and child.
Our hope is that if you find yourself and your child in any of these situations, you will seek help and push until you get it. Please do not let anyone tell you that your infant is "spoiled" or just "being lazy" as this is not the case. Medical roadblocks (gastrointestinal, physiological differences, or food allergies/intolerances, etc.) and/or skill deficits can be underlying causes. There are many resources on the Responsive Feeding Approach as well as research describing its appropriateness for infants and toddlers regardless of the underlying cause. Educating yourself and your child's other caregivers is the first step. Here is a link to a great article entitled "Responsive feeding: establishing healthy eating behavior early on in life" to get you started!