Feeding is so much more than milk

When I think about feeding a baby, my first thoughts take me back to sitting on the couch, in my nest, which over time I liked to move from couch to couch. I spent a lot of time in this position providing my growing child with the nutrients they need to nourish their body and enable them to grow. I always use to measure my success by the amount of centimetres they had grown or grams they had put on. This is one element of feeding. Feeding is so much more than milk.

I’m not entering into a conversation around which method, breast milk or formula is best, instead I want to talk about how you feed. Feeding is a very important interaction. It is the first task that that you do together. Feeding is universal and it occurs in all cultures.

 When we think a little more about feeding, it is a complex interaction, which is rich with behaviors and gives us an insight into our newest edition. Often feeding is the only consistent time with our new baby when they are awake and able to interact with us.  It therefore is a great time to interact with them, allowing parents to observe and understand their behavior and respond to their cues. Understanding these cues takes times and lets be honest our little ones can give us more than one cue at a time. Over time the parent and baby adapt to one another and reciprocation starts to occur. This adaptation is necessary for success to occur.

One of the first forms of communication that occurs is the suck-pause sequence. This sequence occurs whilst we feed and you become familiar over time if they are full, ‘comfort sucking’ or sound asleep.

When you are feeding a baby you have certain roles and responsibilities. That may sound like I'm writing a job description but I am suggesting you take a step back and consider different aspects of feeding. It starts with how you position your baby. You want to be able to see your baby’s eyes and face.  This allows us to see and feel their cues. As well as the position it is great to hold your baby in close contact with your body. Feeding is an intense interaction and there is so much comfort and sensory stimulation that occurs for both of you. It doesn’t stop there; your baby is not only feeding for growth in centimetres and grams it is connecting billions of neurons in its brain.

This parent-child interaction is likely to predict the subsequent style and nature of later interactions

Barnard et al (1989)

You are shaping your child’s brain and potentially how they will interact with others throughout their lifespan…. This blows my mind.

What you can do during feeding to help this growth

Make eye contact
Touch with love
Laugh and smile
Respond to their cues, comfort is distressed
Respond if they disengage from interaction
Learn their body language and cues.
Relax and enjoy the feed
Allow and encourage exploration of feed
Talk about your day, what you can see, touch, feel


Your infant also commits to this partnership and they try and communicate this through their body language and behavior. We know so much about an individual by their body language, that look our partner gives us. Children are no different. I challenge you over the coming days, to put your phone or device away whilst you feed your little one and see what they are trying to tell you. If they look away, give you a big smile or push your hand away what does it mean?  

This feeding could be using a spoon it isn’t limited to milk. I hope you enjoy learning and observing what your infant is trying to tell you. 



Keys to Caregiving, NCAST Programs, 2016