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Infant Clarity of Cues and Maternal Responsiveness

Did you know that the bonding you and your baby have during feeding can help promote lifelong health?

Many women want to breastfeed because they have been told that it helps to bond with their baby and create a strong relationship. It sounds nice, who wouldn't want a strong relationship with the tiny human they just carried for 40 weeks?

But, what many don't realize is that while doing this you are ALSO helping your baby with their cognitive development--which effects their OVERALL health in the future.

How does this work?

Recently, a study was completed discussing how the clarity of infant cues and a mother's responsiveness affected an infant's weight later on. What they found made a lot of sense....

The better an infant relayed their feelings of hunger and satiety the more responsive the mother was to those cues. Likewise, the more responsive a mother was to her baby's cues, the better and more distinct the cues were.

It becomes a working relationship, while no one form of communication is perfect, eventually, you learn how best to communicate with each other to achieve the same goals.

While some infants had a better ability to signal, there is still the belief that infants will, in their own way signal that they are hungry and full. It's a survival technique if you will. Like we said, the better the signal the better response, however, if there is no response the baby will resort to other methods or may just stop signaling altogether.

If a mom feeds on a schedule she is indirectly telling that baby that their instincts cannot be trusted. The infant will no longer signal OR may not be able to self regulate. This is where the infant may fall into cognitive developmental problems in the future .


Interestingly enough, infants that showed lower abilities to effectively signal hunger, did have higher weights-- BUT only in formula-fed populations.


Infants that were breastfed, who also had lower clarity of cues, were not necessarily all overweight.

This is because, at the breast, the baby is able to control HOW MUCH MILK is taken in. Even if the infant was not always able to control WHEN they were fed, they were able to have a say of when they were FINISHED. How cool is that?


There is a line of thought called intuitive eating, that states that as humans we have an innate ability to self regulate if we are given the chance.

However, there are so many external factors that cause us to push down this regulation. Social factors, parental factors, distractions via the internet, etc. This is when we have been seen to OVER eat causing weight problems. We aren't aware of our fullness levels and then become overstuffed to the point of sickness.

This is one of the reasons that people gain weight. They may make all the right choices and exercise regularly, however, consume too much and end up in a calorie excess.

The skill that is INTUITIVE EATING can be traced back to the early stages of infant development--- more specifically, the first 6 months of life!

Overall, breastfed infants are able to hold onto this intuitive eating ability longer because, even if their mother couldn't read them as well OR they were not the best at signaling for food, they still had some control. Whereas, formula-fed infants have zero control of how much is in the bottle. Sure, they have some say as to when they are full, but many parents push the infant to finish the rest. Bottle feeding also comes out so much quicker than when breastfeeding---making the belly fill up without the infant even realizing! They may have been full at 3 oz BUT there was 4oz in the bottle and by the time they finished ---their body hadn't come around to signaling satiety.


So besides breastfeeding, how can you work to preserve your little one's ability to self-regulate? Baby-led weaning is a great way to allow your infant to have control of foods that they eat. While you decide what's in front of them, they can pick and choose what and how much to eat. You can continue this throughout childhood by making sure they feel secure with food, that no food is scarce, no food has more emotional weight (positive or negative), and there is no force when 'finishing (or not finishing) a plate' of food.

If you want to learn more about how to implement baby-led weaning, click here! Also for more info on how to raise an intuitive eater, click here!

To find out how you can implement all of this information during your pregnancy and breastfeeding journey, head on over to our coaching page and fill out our maternal nutrition application today! We can't wait to meet you!

Until next time! Stay amazing!

Mikayla and Cassie

Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors


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