Responsive Feeding Through the First Year — And Beyond

Many experts say it’s best to follow your baby’s hunger cues rather than adhere to a strict feeding schedule — especially in the newborn stage. This is often called “on demand” or “responsive feeding,” and you can do it whether you breastfeed or feed your baby through a bottle. What are typical cues moms should be aware of? What does responsive feeding look like after a baby starts eating solids? And why do some moms choose to continue responsive feeding into toddlerhood?

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Episode Transcript

Natalie Gross 0:04
In the early days of motherhood, it seems like all your baby does is eat sleep and poop right? And sometimes they just want to eat any any. Many experts say is best to follow your baby's use in those early days instead of adhering to a strict feeding schedule. This is often called on demand or responsive feeding. And you can do it whether you breastfeed or feed your baby through a bottle. Today, we're talking all about responsive feeding with an expert and a group of moms who are here to share their experiences. This is Newbies.

Natalie Gross 0:44
Welcome to Newbies! Newbies is your online on-the-go support group guiding new moms through their baby's first year. I'm Natalie Gross- mom to a four year old boy and a baby girl. And we've got a great show today talking about responsive feeding and what that looks like throughout the first year and beyond. Now before we get started, I just want to say I would love for all of you listening to come join the fund over at our membership club called Mighty Moms. We've just relaunched. And that's where we let you know about upcoming recordings and other new mommy media events. You can also connect with other moms in your same stage of parenting. And you get to continue the discussion of topics we cover here on the show. And as I mentioned, it's totally free to join, simply go to our website, https://new and click "become a mighty mom" to sign up. We also have a weekly newsletter you can sign up for on our website. And of course, your best way to stay updated with our content is to hit that subscribe button in your podcast app of choice wherever you're listening now. All right, let's get into today's discussion. We will be meeting our expert Tiffany lovano of the mama coach a little later on in the show. But first, let's meet our moms joining us for this conversation today. Ashley and Sara, thanks so much for joining me and Sara all the way from New Zealand. So please go ahead and tell us a little bit about your family's and your experiences with responsive feeding and why you chose this approach. So Sara, do you want to kick us off?

Sara Davy 2:30
Yeah. Hi, thanks for having me on the show. Yes, all the way from New Zealand. So my experience is, so I'm almost all a mum with two young boys. So my oldest is almost three. And my youngest is just nine months this week. So with my first Caleb, I think it just kind of evolved into on demand feeding. It wasn't really a specific choice. I think it just just kind of happened. But it's the way now I'm going forward with my younger son, Jacob as well. And I just find it a lot easier. I didn't really want to be like, Oh, I have to wake him up every two hours. And it was in the first couple of days in the hospital, and probably for the first week, but then it just kind of evolved to just being when he woke up and when he wanted it. And I think now he it's really a comfort thing for him with his on demand fame. And he's he's not feeling now. But heaps milk is still a comfort thing for him. And when I was trying to wean him off, I could tell when he wanted milk, and then a feed like a feed was from me. And he'd used a different words. And I could tell when it was more of a comfort rather than an actual feed for him. And the good thing was that I actually remember the last time I breastfed him, because it was in my midwife's office when I was pregnant with Jacob. And I think what helped with weaning him was the fact that I was pregnant and my mood changed. But yeah, for me, I just really liked it. I just think it's like easier to just do it that way. But that's what kind of worked for me and my boys at the moment.

Natalie Gross 4:05
Great. Thanks so much for being here Sara. Ashley, what about you?

Ashley Calhoun 4:09
Hello. So I am a mom of two. I live in the Atlanta suburbs. I have a 12 year old and I have a two year old he just turned to a couple of months ago. I was very much on a strict schedule with my daughter a different time of my life. And I kind of had to be just to provide that normalcy. But when my son was born, I just started I tried to do the schedule, and it just did not work for him. For me, I dealt with postpartum so it really helped. It helped my hormonal levels. It helped us bond and it just made things easier. Much like Sara, I could tell when it was for comfort or when he really wanted to eat but even now he's just very vocal. We just stopped nursing like a month a little over a month ago. And now It was rooted in it became also part of our routine and part of comfort. So, yeah, I mean, that's my experience. He's still our responsive, you know, feeder, when it comes to just telling us what he wants when he wants it. I don't have restrictions.

Natalie Gross 5:18
Okay, yeah, I definitely want to talk more about that weaning piece and that bonding pieces. Those are such great topics to discuss. But first of all, we're going to take a quick break. And then we're going to hear more from our expert Tiffany Lebano of The Mama Coach.

Natalie Gross 5:38
Today on Newbie, we're talking about responsive feeding. I have on Tiffany now, Tiffany has been a pediatric nurse, a NICU nurse and a doula. And she now works for the mama coach helping families navigate a lot of the early parenting issues like we're talking about today. So Stephanie, welcome back to Newbies. I know you've been with us before, I'm excited to have you.

Tiffany Lebano 5:56
Thanks so much. I always love joining you. It's such a fun group that you guys have. And I always love the topics. I think they're so important for families, it can be really helpful. Some of these topics that we kind of talked about, but we don't talk enough about are really great to start the conversation. So thanks for having me.

Natalie Gross 6:13
Yeah. So Tiffany, why is responsive feeding something that a lot of experts agree is best for babies, especially in those early days?

Tiffany Lebano 6:21
Sure, I think there has been a ton of research done on responsive feeding. And it's been found that there's a ton of benefits. So what I don't think parents realize is that some of these habits that we develop early, early on, even as early as like newborns and infants, when it comes to eating and food, in their case, like milk formula, breast milk, it's these habits they translate to later on in life. So there's a ton of research that has shown that overweight babies grow into overweight children who grow into overweight adults. And we all know the health complications that come along with that. So one way that we can combat this is by using the technique responsive feeding right away with our babies. And so what this means is really honing in and following your baby's hunger and fullness cues, we want to make sure we're respecting those cues, in a supportive and developmentally appropriate manner. So it's typical, and I think this is pretty natural for parents is that parents feel better when they their babies are eating more. And we hear so much about three ounces every three hours. And it's kind of just built into, I think our culture that we've a little bit forgotten about what seems like an easy concept like responsive feeding is following your baby's cues. But we want to make sure that we are respecting those cues, and we, whether they be for hunger or fullness. That way they can learn how to listen to their bodies. If we push them to eat more than they want, or when they're not hungry, it can teach them to ignore those cues, which puts them at risk of overheating in their adult life. So responsive feeding is really learning your baby's hunger and fullness cues and responding to that those cues accordingly, and really having them be a part of that process.

Natalie Gross 8:09
So what are those typical hunger or fullness cues that moms should be on the lookout for?

Tiffany Lebano 8:14
Yeah, so some signs of hunger look like sucking on hands and fingers are bringing them their hands to their mouths, or making that sucking noise, like lip smacking noise. If they're turning their head, either looking for the breast or bottle sometimes opening and closing their mouth, where it's called rooting. Oftentimes, even like babies that are nursing babies, they kind of start burying their head in mom's chest, things like that. One thing that I always like to mention to families is crying is often a super late sign of hunger. So we want to pick up on some of those earlier hunger cues. Because it just makes for a better experience. And it's easier to feed a baby that's, for lack of better terms like hangry. And makes, it just makes the whole event like a more calm and enjoyable process for mom, caregiver or baby. And then some of the signs of fullness include you'll actually, if you're bottle feeding or nursing, you'll notice that your baby's actually like tongue thrusting, like pushing that nipple away. And in the other side, at the end of the feed, they're actually turning their head away and they're not really looking to latch or they end up sort of biting and playing with that nipple. So just some cues that they're all done, and that's an infancy. So in toddlerhood, I always talk to my families to especially, really, I think we see a lot of families that are teaching their babies like colors or animal sounds. And those are all really, really awesome. Those are great things to learn. But sometimes in toddlerhood and early toddlerhood when they haven't developed those verbal skills, teaching them that a way of communicating they're in needs is really really helpful. So a lot of baby sign language in terms of you know more or all done is a really great way to help your baby not just pick up on their physical cues, but help them start to verbalize what they need.

Natalie Gross 10:04
Okay, and how might responsive feeding differ for babies who are breastfed versus babies who are fed through a bottle.

Tiffany Lebano 10:10
So really, I think the main focus of responsive feeding is focusing on that it's baby-led. So whether it's breast or bottle, we want baby to control the flow rate, the amount and the timing. And we always talk about how with breastfeeding, really, I mean, there's like three things you can't make a baby do, you can't make a baby eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom. Week, it's just our job to offer. And it's their job to decide when and how much and at what rate that they're eating. So with the bottle, we want to make sure that babies have control over these factors. So sometimes parents are fixated on baby finishing a set amount of milk or staying on the breast for a certain number of minutes. And we want to just keep in mind that each feeding, you know, again, three ounces, every three hours, it may not look like that it may like may look like half an ounce, and then an hour later, two ounces. And then 30 minutes later, one ounce, and then three hours later, three ounces. So it's really picking up on those cues and taking your baby's lead and allowing them to have control over the situation. Whereas with breastfeeding, it may be that your baby only wants to take a feed from one breast. And that feed is only four minutes or they want both breasts and it's going to be 15 minutes, it really is just it's mostly redirecting our focus from a number of minutes or a number of ounces. More to how does my baby look? Does my baby look satisfied? Are they comfortable in between feedings? Are they showing me cues that they're still hungry, or that they are full and meeting those needs whenever they are showing them to us. So regardless of the last time of the last feed, or how long the last feed was just letting your baby kind of take the lead and respecting those cues, and meeting their needs whenever and however they're showing us.

Natalie Gross 12:08
Okay, and so it seems like this kind of all would correlate Once babies start solids. Right? Can you talk about how to continue using this feeding approach once the baby is a little bit older and eating table food?

Tiffany Lebano 12:20
Yeah, absolutely. It is practicing the same techniques, it's just switching out those mele, their breast milk or formula for salad. So continuing to watch your baby or your toddler or your older child's choose for hunger and fullness cues, either through them expressing it verbally or through action. And having caregivers responding to those cues in a supportive and like I said developmentally appropriate manner. And we want to make sure that we're doing this on a consistent basis where your child experiences a very predictable response to those cues, whether they be hunger or fullness. So if your child is ready for salads, you can continue to use this approach and start incorporate, like I said, some sign language where they can verbalize not just show us physically with their bodies. And some of those cues of the lip smacking or the head turning but offering them developmentally appropriate foods, whether you guys are using baby led weaning or solids or some type of combination, and letting letting your child kind of take the lead on when they're hungry, and how much of it they would like to eat. So like I said, it's always our job to provide the food and the child's job to determine how much of it and when they would like to eat. So really just respecting those cues and responding accordingly. And just swapping them out for either milk or solids depending on where you guys are.

Natalie Gross 13:36
I'm having a realization that might sound dumb to everybody else. But is that why they call it baby led weaning?

Tiffany Lebano 13:43
Yep, you got it.

Natalie Gross 13:48
Took me long enough. All right. Well, one question that I see in a lot of the moms Facebook groups that I'm in is about overfeeding and you started talking about this earlier, but like, Am I over feeding my baby. And I remember feeling that way. Because my two month old was eating I don't know, like, four ounces at a time. I'm trying to remember exactly. But it was a lot for her age. Or even like what the pediatrician had told us was kind of in the range, but she always seemed hungry. And so I just I didn't know. And so, you know, I was just curious, is there something to that advice? Like you can't really overfeed a baby? Or what's your take on this? I'm curious.

Tiffany Lebano 14:24
Sure. So overfeeding can happen, but really, in my experience, it's actually pretty rare. So most times when overfeeding is happening. It's when a caregiver is misinterpreting those hunger and fullness cues. And as long as your baby's gaining weight and they're growing and they're thriving, and we're not seeing any concerning tummy issues or symptoms, like vomiting or loading or excessive gas, where they're really uncomfortable. I really don't think that overfeeding is typically something that is is super common. Like I said, it's pretty rare babies. They're really sophisticated. and their ability to regulate. So they typically eat when they're hungry and they stop when they're full. It's just that sometimes we miss this, we miss picking up on those cues, whether it be from being just so exhausted, or maybe some being overwhelmed new parents anxiety, misinformation, like I said, a lot of three ounces, every three hours is kind of a lot of what I hear. So it gets to be confusing, then the internet's gotten really noisy. So you know, the bottom line is if your baby's growing, and they're not having any issues, they're not having any tummy troubles when they're vomiting or having, you know, distension or bloating or gas or anything like that. Typically, babies are really good at regulating themselves. And they'll usually just eat when they're hungry and, and stop when they're full.

Natalie Gross 15:43
Thanks so much for sharing this important information, Tiffany? Well, we're gonna take another quick break, and then bring back our moms Ashley and Sara into the discussion.

Natalie Gross 15:58
We are continuing our discussion on responsive feeding today. Welcome back. Ashley and Sara. Any thoughts on what we've just heard from Tiffany?

Ashley Calhoun 16:06
Sure, I will go I feel affirmed. Like, okay, I was doing it right. Yeah. Got it. Right. When it came to the response of feeding back. She said, the internet is so noisy and there can be so much guilt associated with doing things different. So no, that was just enlightening. And I feel empowered. So thank you. Yeah.

Natalie Gross 16:33
Sara, any thoughts?

Sara Davy 16:35
Yeah, the same way, actually, I think there's a good way you would have to estimate affirmed, yeah, that I was doing the right thing. And I think just, you know, every baby is different as well. And I'm not sure how I feeling Jenny's gonna go with my second son, Jacob, as far as weaning and stuff goes, and if he's going to be quite reliant, or his comfort or not, it's going to be interesting, because I think when I was winning, Caleb, I was pregnant. And I think my milk changed and, and my body was telling me that I needed to stop feeding him from me. And so I had to start that process. And it was a really emotional one as well. And so I'm not sure how it's gonna go with Jacob, because I don't think I'll be written in again. And so something that goes with him and how I use it for comfort, would that have been demand feeding him as well, and whether it will last as long as, as Caleb did, you know, so yeah, it's interesting, but I definitely feel affirmed that I was doing the right thing. So yeah, that was awesome. Thank you.

Natalie Gross 17:34
I love how he started chiming in there, too. That was great! Ashley, yousaid you didn't do responsive eating, I think it was with your older your daughter. But then you obviously weaned her at one point. And then your son was weaned as well. Did it differ in the ways that you weaned? Like, what did that look like for you?

Ashley Calhoun 17:51
It was very different. It was actually extremely easy to wean my daughter, I weaned her in about six months, I would still pump and she would nurse on a schedule. But she weighed easily and quickly. So I was like, maybe it's a boy girl thing because I started trying to wean my son at around eight or nine month mark. And it just, he was not having it. And Emotionally, I couldn't handle the tantrums that came with it sounds like you know what, we'll just keep going. And every so many months, I would see if we could do it. And it just wasn't time. So it was very different. It was a very different experience emotionally and just on my body hormonally.

Natalie Gross 18:37
Okay, Tiffany, any personal experience with this as well?

Tiffany Lebano 18:41
Yeah. So just a little bit about kind of how I got became a mom and coach. I'm a pediatric nurse originally. And when I had my first daughter, I was ready. I was like, Okay, I got this. I know how to take care of babies. This is so regular. And then I realized that, you know, at the hospital, we really do. I mean, we feed on demand, but it kind of comes out to every three hours based on our schedule, and our other cares and medications and things like that. So that was what I did with my first daughter, I we did that every three hours. I was feeding. I was breastfeeding at the time, and her sleep was a mess. And I just couldn't figure out what, what was going on. And then I ended up actually getting pregnant, like 12 weeks postpartum. And similar to your experience. I think my milk pretty much dried up or changed. And we were able to nurse until she was about nine months. And she she just kind of stopped and it was fine. And then when my second daughter came along, you know I had, I had a two babies and they were 12 months apart. I had a one year old and a newborn. So we didn't really my schedule kind of went out the window. And I found that she was sleeping really beautifully. And I just kind of took a closer look at what I was doing differently. And I had realized I was really just feeding whenever she would ask and responding according mainly, and most likely, probably feeding really, really well, my supply was really great, which I attribute to feeding her so often, and following her cues, and she ended up sleeping really, really well. So it was just my experience. And I kind of leaned into it and explored more and kind of wanted to become a sleeper an expert about baby sleep and feeding and all of that. So that's how I got there. But it happened really, really naturally on its own just in the differences between my first and second daughter, and I carried that on with my son, who I nursed as well. And totally just no schedule out the window. Whenever he wanted it, it was just kind of we would be I used to call it like fast food. And we'd be like running around outside and I'd be feeding him. And I it's just, I noticed that the babies were much more content much more satisfied, they were sleeping really well. And then came to find out after I stumbled upon it on my own that there's actually a lot of research behind this. And it makes total sense.

Natalie Gross 20:59
Let's talk about the bonding piece that I know a few of you have already mentioned. Did you feel you know, I've heard that responsive feeding can be really good for bonding. And I know all three of you have nursed I did not nurse my babies I plan to exclusively but I'm curious, you know if that piece of it, I guess kind of added to the bond that you had this responsive feeding?

Ashley Calhoun 21:20
I don't necessarily. I was it was just a very different time in my life with my daughter and my son. I went right back to work at six weeks. So I do feel like he and I have a stronger bond than she and I had at that point. But I don't know if it's totally due to the church or the nursing, but I suspect it's got something to do with it.

Sara Davy 21:42
Yeah. For me, I think it did help our bond. And I remember when I was pregnant, and I suddenly felt like I couldn't feed him anymore. myself. I found it quite emotionally, quite quite emotional. So as I thought what's going on, like, it's been what we've loved to do, as well, we've always done it. And my friend actually reframed for me that it was probably my body's way of saying, hey, the baby needs all the milk, you know. So that was good. And that kind of specter to have that reframe, because I found it quite emotional when my body was wanting to kind of push them off in that in that aspect. So I found it quite hard, because I think it did really help our bond. But we're still we're still really close. Yeah, it's just from that point of view, I found it quite a shock that I had such that change, when I was about probably four or six months pregnant, where I just felt like I was like, This is not right. I can't do it anymore. And it was it was quite a big shock to me. But yeah, I do....

Natalie Gross 22:43
And of course I'm bonded to both of my babies just throw that in there. But was curious how the responsive beading piece came into play. Tiffany, any thoughts on that?

Tiffany Lebano 22:52
Yeah, so the I have three children. And I got pregnant while nursing the first two. And I had what felt so I guess I should say with my first I was very in shock. And I didn't expect to have those changes. I had this kind of goal in mind. I was like ready to nurse for the year and however long and then kind of changed, my plan changed because my body was just unable to produce milk. And I had a really very hard time accepting that the first time. And I guess we stopped nursing when she was nine months. And I mean, she is my little sidekick. So I think that bond is really there. It's super strong. And then with my second I nursed her as well until I got pregnant at nine months. And same thing, she is sent, you know, very similar experience, the biggest difference that I noticed was when I went my son, and it wasn't when I was pregnant, I had a really hard he and I both had a much harder time than my daughters did. And I think that I don't know if I can attribute it to all the pregnancy hormones that I was already kind of they were they were fluctuating they were, you know, circulating through my body. And the change in milk and the change on volume as well. Most likely made it easier for them to wean. Whereas with my son, it was me initiating. And at that point I had been pregnant and or breastfeeding for four years. So I I needed a break I was finished when by the time we turned one. So I had initiated it. And I we actually started the weaning process and continued probably three times before it stuck. And I really think that had to do with but there were there wasn't no change in my milk. It was me actively kind of nudging him in that direction. Very, very close bond. I nursed all of them almost the same amount. Like I don't know if I think a couple of months here and there is a big difference. So I don't know if that's a difference. But I think the change in the milk made it easier for my two daughters because I was pregnant when we stopped whereas with my son, I don't think there was much of a change as opposed to like eventually the amount reduced but he and I both had a harder time. with it. So I don't know, I think it definitely has to do a lot with feeding but with the breastfeeding, but I, I also see so many. I mean, like I said my daughter, my first daughter was three months when she started taking bottles and formula because my milk changed and we're so close. So I think that you are still able, I firmly believe that you're able to totally bond with that with your babies. Regardless of how you feed them. You're still having that closeness, you're still gazing into your their eyes, each other's eyes, you still have that bond of meeting their needs and responding to their their cues. However you're responding to them, you're still responding to them, which is where I think the root of that bond is kind of coming from. Yeah.

Natalie Gross 25:44
That's such a good point. Thank you, Tiffany. Curious, as we wrap here, is there a time where you know, your baby kind of naturally rose to a set feeding schedule, versus responsive feeding? And I'm curious if that's true, if that's the case, what that look like for your families... and at what age?

Ashley Calhoun 26:05
For me, my son is still not on a schedule. So, I can't.....

Natalie Gross 26:12
No worries.

Sara Davy 26:14
Yeah, I think he's really into a specific schedule. Yeah, I don't know. I don't know if you will. I mean, what I found interesting is even with Jacob like, I'm not sure if it was because it was my second baby or not, but the birth care I was at weren't really as, like waking me up every two hours to feed him. Whereas it was caillard. My first one and at birth, because they were like, every two hours in the room, I gotta feed I'm gonna feel. And also he had trouble he didn't latch he had a tan tie. And so for that, first by he was born on a Friday and on Monday was when they cut his tongue tie. So that kind of weekend, he wasn't really eating much at all, I had to express through a pump to actually give them any food, it was all through through a syringe. So that was kind of more scheduled because I had to do more work for it, I had to kind of prepare a bit more for it. And so I think when we got home, and I was pumping and looks out of the fire, it was like easier to just go into on demand, feeding that Jacobs kind of always just been on demand, not really on a schedule, as such. So yeah, I don't think he ever will be asking you.

Natalie Gross 27:26
Alright, so if any, any last thoughts as we wrap up?

Tiffany Lebano 27:29
Yeah, I just wanted to kind of address what your question was. So for me, and I think with a lot of the families I work with, in terms of becoming more predictable, like, I think I like to use that word as opposed to a schedule, where instead of there's times necessarily for things, it's more of like a sequence of things that happen in like an order. And I find that that happens pretty well, things become pretty predictable when babies move to two naps. And I have that same experience with my babies. Whereas when they start taking two naps a day, their little bodies are pretty regulated, they wake up around the same amount of time give or take, they go to bed around the same time and their naps, those two set naps are about you know, plus or minus 30 minutes around the same time. So things become a lot more predictable. And how we ended up in the responsive feeding, it kind of just translated to for at least my daughter, she would get a feed when she woke up whatever she was waking up from whether it be a Napper in the morning. And then she would always want to take a second feed before she went down for sleep. And then that was just kind of how the pattern went came very predictable. Whereas we've got a really little baby, where they're kind of feeding, they kind of want to feed every sometimes every 20 minutes or they're good for two hours, it's a little more unpredictable, their sleep is really unpredictable. They're all over the place. So once I find that once babies are on to naps, and that kind of is variable, it's can be anywhere between like seven to nine months, maybe as early as six, so that range is really different. But at that point, things become a lot more predictable. And then just get even more predictable once they even move down to one nap say because again, then there that's just usually at like a typical time and a lot more, you're able to kind of predict when things are happening. So that's when I usually find that things become more into a pattern and and more set.

Natalie Gross 29:26
Alright, so for all you brand new moms listening out there, there is hope predictability is coming. So thank you so much to you, Tiffany, Ashley and Sara for joining me today listeners, be sure to check out Tiffany's website at Also check out where we have all of our podcast episodes plus videos and more.

Natalie Gross 30:00
Well that wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Newbies. Don't forget to check out our sister shows Preggie Pals for expecting parents, Parents Savers for moms and dads with toddlers, The Boob Group for moms who get breast milk to their babies, and Twin Talks for parents of multiples. Thanks for listening to Newbies your go to source for new moms and new babies.

Disclaimer 30:27
This is been a New Mommy Media production. Information material contained in this episode I presented for educational purposes early statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts will such information and materials are believed to be accurate. It is not intended to replace or substitute for professional medical advice or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating healthcare problem or disease or prescribing any medication. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health, or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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