The Importance of Responsive Feeding & How to Use It

Becoming a mother is one of the most rewarding things in the world. You experience the beauty of pregnancy then welcome your bundle of joy to the world 9 months later and get to raise him or her into adulthood. To make things easier for the long run, it’s best to work on instilling good habits from the start—and yes, we mean from birth!

While you may be wondering how that’s possible, it’s actually pretty easy.

One of the best ways to help your child start building healthy habits is through responsive feeding. Responsive feeding involves learning your baby’s specific hunger cues, their cues for feelings of fullness, and subsequently learning how to respond appropriately to both.

The main problem new parents have with responsive feeding is that it’s more unpredictable and harder to work into your schedule. However, due to the high health benefits of responsive feeding, both now and for your baby’s future, it’s worth the extra effort. Keep reading to learn more about the importance of responsive feeding and how to use it.

How to Use Responsive Feeding

The first step to really understanding responsive feeding is to learn how to recognize a few basic signs. Luckily, your baby’s natural instincts will kick in and all you’ll need to do is watch for the cues.

How Often Will Your Baby Breastfeed?

If you’re a new mom, you’re probably curious about how often your baby will breastfeed in general. Naturally, the frequency of feedings will vary between each baby—with the average being around 8 – 12 times every 24 hours. Mentally prepare to be on the higher side of that number, but it will all depend on your baby’s natural hunger levels.

As your baby continues to grow, feedings will change. While it will seem like your baby is starting to need more food, it’s usually just a sign of a growth spurt. Follow their hunger cues and everything will work out perfectly.

The difference between responsive feeding and setting a schedule is irregularity. Babies aren’t born with an innate hunger clock that is perfectly set to every few hours—they eat when they’re hungry. It will be tough to get used to at first, but you will eventually fall in sync with each other.

Understanding the Signs of Hunger

To expedite the process of falling in sync, it’s important to understand the signs of hunger that your baby will show. Again, all babies will be different, but for the most part, hunger signs are similar across the board.

Some common signs of hunger include:

  • Putting a hand in or near his or her mouth frequently
  • The creation of sucking noises
  • Putting hands on or around his or her belly
  • Increased kicking, activity, or hand movements
  • Crying—which is the latest sign of hunger and indicates that earlier cues were missed

Understanding the Signs of Fullness

In the same respect that babies show signs of hunger, they also show signs of fullness. Some common signs of fullness include:

  • Frequently stopping and starting feeding
  • Spitting out your breast or bottle
  • Completely ignoring your breast or bottle
  • Frequent unlatching
  • Turning his or her head away from the source of feeding
  • Slowing down
  • Falling asleep

How to Fulfill Hunger Expectations

The main way to ensure you’ve fulfilled your baby’s hunger expectations is to pay attention. Stay alert and keep an eye on your baby at all times during nursing. As long as you watch for the cues, you will be satisfying their hunger.

Don’t listen to advice from your friends whose babies are eating three times as much as yours—they might be much bigger or just have a naturally stronger appetite.

If you think that your baby isn’t eating enough, or is eating too much, it never hurts to schedule a consultation with your pediatrician. When it comes to your baby, it’s okay to make sure everything is normal.

Is it Normal for my Baby to Eat so Frequently?

Babies are in a constant state of growth. They start out tiny and need a lot of nourishment to grow into strong adults. The reason that a lot of newborns and babies need to eat so often is because breast milk is actually very easily digestible. It’s low in fat and protein, but contains a high amount of carbohydrates and lactose to assist in growth.

In contrast, babies who feed off of formula, which is harder to digest, eat much less frequently. So even if you think your baby is eating an absurd amount, it’s probably normal. If you have any questions or concerns, just get in touch with your doctor.

Benefits of Responsive Feeding

After learning about how to work on responsive feeding, we figured it’d be important to give you some of the many benefits that follow suit. Not only is it good for your baby, responsive feeding is also very beneficial for you as a new mom.

Responsive feeding helps keep your levels of breast milk high and consistent, which naturally decreases any chances of painful feedings or blocked ducts. Oddly enough, the more milk your baby eats, the more milk you will produce—it’s part of the beautiful circle of life. Responsive feeding has been shown to help your milk production more than strict scheduled feedings.

This consistent flow of milk production is also beneficial for your baby as it stimulates mature milk faster—which is better for your baby to ingest. The more mature milk your baby eats during feedings, the more healthy weight they’ll gain and they’ll have a higher chance of fighting off illness and disease.

Additionally, babies who are fed using responsive feeding establish much better eating habits that carry into adulthood. When a strict schedule is implemented, babies are often fed past the point of fullness, which carries into toddler, teen, and adult eating habits.

You know, like the times you sit around eating even when you’re not hungry? Or the gnawing feeling that you need to finish your restaurant sized portion because it’s just too good to push aside or save for later?

Responsive feeding helps babies grow up and avoid obesity along with the number of chronic illnesses associated with it.

How to Enhance Responsive Feeding

To get the most out of your responsive feeding, there are a few things to do to enhance the process—most of which you’ll do anyway. First and foremost, you need to respond swiftly to any hunger cues and signs of fullness. When you do this, you are giving your baby the reassurance they need to know you’ll be there for them to take care of their basic needs.

In addition, you should use the following strategies:

  • Make conversation and keep eye contact with your baby throughout the entire feeding time
  • Make communication clear and use language that’s easy to understand
  • Create a calm and pleasant environment for nursing
  • Don’t rush responsive feedings
  • Be patient and follow the speed of your baby’s needs

How to Deal with Night Time Feedings

The main problem that new mothers find with responsive feeding is how to deal with nighttime feedings. Since babies take in about 1/3 of their milk supply at night, it’s not healthy for them to sleep through the night right away.

Instead, work out a routine with your partner for pumping and bottle-feeding and take turns getting up throughout the night. If you insist on breastfeeding for each feeding, stay close to your baby and consider sleeping in the same room for the first few months to make feedings easier.


Everyone understands that breastfeeding is accompanied by a number of benefits. The bond between baby and mother is unbeatable and the experience itself is a beautiful thing. However, if you’re going to breastfeed, you should at least try responsive feeding. It will be different than scheduled feeding and will take more time to get the hang of, but the benefits for both mother and baby are worth it. If you want to learn more about responsive feeding, or are having difficulty breastfeeding, contact a professional latching expert or talk to your doctor. There are so many options that can be taken to help encourage latching and make responsive feeding easier, so it’s always worth giving them a try. And remember, the Affordable Care Act allows expectant mothers to receive an electric breast pump covered by their insurance provider! Visit Byram Healthcare today to browse our wide selection of manual and electric pumps.

If you have experience with responsive feeding, head over to our Facebook page today and leave a comment! We’re always interested in hearing stories from our readers and love to watch our community of mothers grow and support each other.