Most parents feel better when their baby eats more – and eats on a predictable schedule. It’s comforting and reassuring. It helps parents feel certain that their baby has had enough to eat. It also makes it easier to organize the day or give instructions to babysitters. But when we push babies to eat more than they want, or to eat when they aren’t hungry, it can teach them bad habits that put them at higher risk of obesity.
It’s really important that babies eat when they are hungry and eat only as much as they need. That’s where responsive feeding comes in. Responsive feeding is learning your baby’s cues for hunger, and for being full, and responding appropriately to those cues.
Here are some signs that a baby might be hungry:
- He/she puts her hands in or near her mouth
- He/she makes sucking noises
- He/she puts her hands on her belly
- He/she is more active, moving her hands and feet
- He/she cries — but this is a late sign, often coming after the earlier signs didn’t bring food.
Parents should respond warmly and promptly to these signs, and should let the baby stop eating once she’s full. Signs of being full include:
- Stopping and starting feeding frequently.
- Spitting out or ignoring the bottle or breast.
- Unlatching from the breast.
- Turning the head away.
- Slowing down, or falling asleep.
If a baby is showing these signs, parents should stop feeding, even if the baby has eaten less than usual, or less than the parent would like them to eat. That way, the baby learns to listen to her hunger cues and stop eating when she’s not hungry anymore, habits that can help keep her at a healthy weight for life.
Speaking to My Medical Mantra regarding this Dr Sarita Bhagwat, a lactation consultant said, “There is a cycle of hunger. If parents cannot understand their babies hunger or overfeed them, then this cycle will not work. If parents overfeed their babies in childhood, then the child will grow up with a habit of overeating. This can cause childhood obesity in the future.”
She added, “One important thing to remember is that parents must feed their child only when they are hungry, as the digestive system is also active during this time. This will help food be digested properly.”
If a parent is worried that their baby isn’t getting enough to eat, or isn’t growing well enough, the best thing to do is call the doctor and make an appointment. At the appointment, the baby can be weighed and examined to check for any problems. If there are problems, the doctor and parents can make a plan to address them and get the baby back on track. If there aren’t any, parents can feel comfortable listening to and following the baby’s cues.
The bottom line for parents: you provide, your baby decides.
Source: Havard Medical School
The author of this article is Dr Claire McCarthy, MD, is a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. With inputs from Dr Sarita Bhagwat, a lactation consultant