Building Partnerships to Promote Early Childhood Development
Responsive complementary feeding in rural Bangladesh

It is now widely recognized that malnutrition can partly be attributed to caregiver–child interaction during feeding episodes. Current conceptual frameworks emphasize the importance of responsiveness (including active and social behaviour), psychomotor abilities of the child to self-feed, and a non-distracting feeding environment. The present observational study had three main objectives: (1) to define operationally key terms such as responsive and active feeding and observe their frequency in a rural Bangladesh sample; (2) to examine whether self-feeding, responsive and active behaviours of the mother and child varied with child’s age and amounts eaten; and (3) to determine associations between mother and child behaviours. Fifty-four mother–child pairs were observed during one feeding episode and behaviours were coded for 5 categories, namely self-feeding, responsive, active, social and distracting behaviours. Children were between 8 and 24 months of age. Results indicated that the five behaviours could be observed and reliably coded. Two-thirds of mothers had an active feeding style but only a third were responsive; the two styles did not overlap. With older children, mothers encouraged more eating and more self-feeding, but children did not feed themselves more; instead older children were more negatively responsive (refusing offered food). Positively responsive mothers tended to have active children who explicitly signaled their desire for food or water, and who ate more mouthfuls of food. Positively active mothers adopted different strategies to encourage eating, such as verbally directing the child to eat, focusing, and temporarily diverting. These mothers tended to have children who were negatively responsive and refused food. Children accepted on average 5.31 mouthfuls of food and rejected 2.13. Mothers who used intrusively active strategies (e.g. force feeding) tended to have children who were both positively and negatively responsive, thus partially reinforcing her forceful behaviour. Thus, the responsive feeding framework, once operationalized, has the potential to identify specific behaviours that support or impede mother–child interaction during complementary feeding.