"Feed on demand" or "responsive feeding" refers to a feeding approach in which an infant or baby is fed whenever they show signs of hunger rather than adhering to a strict schedule. In the context of breastfeeding, it means allowing the baby to nurse whenever they express hunger cues. These principles can also be applied to on-demand bottle feeding. This approach is often contrasted with scheduled or timed feedings, where the baby is fed at set intervals.
Recognizing and responding to your baby's hunger cues ensures she is getting the nourishment and comfort exactly when she needs it. How do I know my baby is hungry?
- Rooting Reflex: When a baby turns their head toward a touch on their cheek, looking for the breast or bottle
- Sucking on Fists or Objects
- Mouthing and Lip Smacking
- Increased activity, restlessness, squirming, alertness or wakefulness
- Crying: This is a late hunger cue. While crying can indicate hunger, it's beneficial to respond to earlier cues to avoid the baby becoming too distressed
- Turning Head from Side to Side
- Nuzzling or Nuzzling Against the Chest
When feeding on demand, it's also necessary to know when your baby's had enough. Don't push them to eat more when they're full. Signs a baby is full include:
- Unlatching from the breast
- Starting and stopping feeding often
- closing their mouth or turning away from the breast or bottle
- slowing down and falling asleep
- seeming content and happy
- hands going from a clenched fist to open and relaxed
If your baby acts like they're done eating, but you're not sure that they've gotten enough, try burping them and waiting a minute before offering more. If they still don't want to eat, stop feeding.
Whether you are nursing on demand or providing expressed breastmilk on demand, this approach has been known to encourage healthy weight gain in babies. They consume the amount of milk they need, and this personalized approach supports their growth and development. Also, on-demand feeding not only fulfills the baby's nutritional needs but also provides comfort and promotes bonding between the baby and the caregiver.
On-demand feeding is often recommended for breastfeeding mothers because it can help establish and maintain a healthy breast milk supply.
Continue feeding on demand if it's working for you and your baby. Usually you and your baby will begin to fall in a natural routine. You won't need to look to hunger cues to see when it's time for a feeding, because you'll know your baby's patterns and preferences.
When your baby starts eating solid foods regularly, they'll gradually need fewer nursing sessions or bottles throughout the day. Between 8 and 12 months old, they'll start having three regular meals and snacks – and start to eat what the rest of the family is having.