Using the Division of Responsibility with Infants to Support Feeding

a baby sitting in a high chair eating fruit

Supporting little ones with feeding can be overwhelming, especially with so much information at our fingertips. Following the Division of Responsibility (sDOR) can help support infants to eat well and help decrease stress around feeding for all, including parents and caregivers. Recognizing hunger and fullness cues and knowing when it is appropriate to transition to solids can also help support infants with feeding during the first year.

The Satter Division of Responsibility Can Help 

Trust and respect are the foundation of the sDOR. A dietitian and family therapist, Ellyn Satter, created this evidence-based approach in 1986.

With the sDOR, everyone’s role in supporting feeding is clearly outlined. This can help reduce the stress for caregivers and parents and help the infant remain calm during feedings and the transition to solid foods.

What Does the Division of Responsibility Look Like for Infants?

The sDOR sets out specific roles for eating and, by following it, provides infants with the support in the long-term process of learning to eat various foods and making food choices as they grow.

sDOR for Infants: (0-1 years old)

  • Adults are responsible for what is consumed and where. Breast milk and/or formula are the sole sources of nutrition in an infant’s initial stages of life.
  • The infant is responsible for when, how much and whether to eat during breast or formula-feeding. At the beginning of an infant’s life, it is essential to feed on demand (i.e., when the infant wants to eat) to support growth and development.

sDOR for Infants Transitioning to Solid Foods:

  • Adults are still responsible for what food is provided. Gradually there is an increased responsibility for when food is offered as the infant transitions to solid food.
  • The infant is still responsible for how much and whether to eat.

Trust is a Key Ingredient

Infants are born with a natural ability to know when they are hungry and full. Trusting and respecting their hunger and fullness cues is essential, as this will help them learn to self-regulate as they grow.

Successful feeding wants a caretaker who trusts and depends on information coming from the child about timing, amount, preference, pacing, and eating capability. An appropriate feeding relationship supports a child’s developmental tasks. It also helps the child develop positive attitudes about self and the world. ELLYN SATTER

Signs of Hunger:

  • Sucking on hands
  • Fists clenched
  • Lip smacking
  • Head turning to the side to look for breast or bottle
  • Crying and irritability
  • Restlessness

Signs of Fullness:

  • Pressing lips closed
  • Turning head away from breast or bottle
  • The body appears more relaxed (e.g., arms and legs relaxed at the side of the body)
  • Young infants may fall asleep
  • Becoming distracted during the meal (e.g., starting and stopping feeding)
  • Pushing food away

When to Start Transitioning to Solids

Most infants are ready to start transitioning to solid foods between 4-6 months old. Some signs that an infant is developmentally ready to start solids are:

  • Able to sit upright with little or no support
  • Showing interest in solid food (e.g., taking an interest in your food during meals)
  • Good head control
  • Grasping toys and other objects
  • Opening mouth when food is offered on a spoon

How to Start the Transition to Solids

There is no single “right way” to feed your baby as you start providing solid foods. Some families offer pureed foods at first, while others follow baby-led weaning. Baby-led weaning is an approach where finger foods are favoured and pureed or spoon-fed options are skipped. By offering finger foods this promotes independence at meals by having the infant self-feed. To learn more about this approach, read more about starting solids using baby-led weaning.

Some families also follow a mix of baby-led weaning and pureed options. Whichever approach you choose, a focus on offering iron-rich foods is important (e.g., iron-fortified cereals, beef, tofu, eggs, etc.).

Supporting Feeding is a Journey

A child’s relationship with food begins early in life. The work you put in to support an infant will help to set the foundation for their eating behaviours later in life. Whether you start with finger foods, pureed foods or a mix of both. The most important thing you can do is trust and respect infants by following their cues and listening to when, how much and whether they want to eat.


Nüton has created free workshops for educators in school and childcare settings. Visit our website for details.

General eating advice: The eating advice in this article is based on Ellyn Satter’s principles and guidelines. For more about Satter’s work, visit

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