Parenting Matters

Addressing Infant Feeding Issues

Parenting Matters

Addressing Infant Feeding Issues

Clinical Nurse Consultant

Michele Meehan
Maternal & Child Health

Hours of Operation

Tuesday 10-2pm,
Wednesday 10-2pm
*(extended hours available by appointment)

Early Feeding Success

My new website has created the opportunity to share some of the writing I have done over the last 5 years and it seems sensible to start with the origin of infant feeding success. As it is often this NOT going well, that leads me to seeing the clients in my practice.

With many of the families I see struggling with infant feeding or eating many report some struggle in the early week.

The usual understanding of the feeding relationship, is one of the strength of the behaviours being with the mother, and the baby’s being a weaker response.


But in fact it is a strong two way street, with each person’s actions affecting the other.

It is a mistake I feel to always address feeding problems by what the mother should do. Feed more / less often, wake the baby more/ try a bottle, use this teat etc. After all a lot of mother’s behaviour has developed out of what the BABY does.

  • Early Feeding success is dependent of the establishment of 4 things
  • Self regulatory processes

The baby needs to be able to regulate his body, breathing, alertness, activity, and focus to be able to manage a feed.

So babies who have had a difficult birth, scored low on APGAR (condition at birth) or been premature, or small for dates, may all not be at peak state to start feeding strongly and well. They may be too sleepy, unable to stay awake for a length of time or have a weak suck.

There may be nothing we can do about this but wait as they improve and mature, but it may explain why feeding does not progress easily.

Alternately they may start feeding well fairly quickly, but when any situation arises affecting feeding( a later infection or illness) they may not bounce back as well as a stronger full term baby.


  • Mother’s responsiveness

Not all labour and birth goes easily or as well as hoped, so the mother may not be in an alert and pain free starts when feeding starts. If the mother is not able to concentrate and focus on the baby feeding, they may take longer to develop their synchrony and balance.


  • Infant’s capacity to emit a range of signals

Feeding is a relationship of infant signaling his hunger and mother responding to those signals. If he is sleepy when a feed is due it may be hard for mum to decide whether to feed him or not. He may fall asleep during the feed and she presumes he has had enough. Or he starts feeding or crying and she is unable to decide what he wants . Maybe he doesn’t know!


  • Mother’s identification and response

The last factor is the mother’s ability to identify the baby’s signals. The most common demonstration of this struggle is the mother with early post-natal depression, or one where her anxiety over the baby’s health means she is excessively anxious about feeding. Rather than a joyful calm sharing experience, the baby reacts to her uncertainty or low mood and fusses or refuses a feed.

And finally Support.

From the baby’s father, from nursing and medical staff, who give her confidence in her decisions, and giving as much information as possible so she makes decisions that make her feel confident and comfortable in her new role as a mother

Further information is available in the simple E-book Infant Feeding Issues available on my website.

Do you and your child need further assistance?

If you would like to speak to me directly about these issues, feel free to call in or book an appointment here.

Michele Meehan

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