Infant Feeding Guide

Appropriate and healthy feeding of your baby during the first year of life is extremely important. More growth occurs during the first year than at any other time in your child's life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for the first six months. Breastfeeding protects infants against infections (ear infections, colds, diarrhea, etc.), as well as diabetes and obesity in the future.

While breastfeeding is best for babies, not all mothers can or choose to breastfeed. Infant formula (iron fortified) is an alternative source of nutrition for those babies.

For the first six months, breast milk or formula is all that's needed. As your baby grows, starting a variety of healthy foods at the proper time is important for proper growth and development. And, starting good eating habits at this early stage will help set healthy eating patterns for life. When you add solid foods to your baby's diet around 6 months of age, continue breastfeeding/breast milk or formula until at least 12 months to provide the necessary nutrients. You can continue to breastfeed after 12 months if you and your baby desire.

Feeding guide for your child's first six months

Don't give solid foods unless your baby's healthcare provider advises you to do so. Solid foods shouldn't be started for infants younger than age 6 months for the following reasons:

  • Breast milk or formula provides your baby all the nutrients that are needed to grow.

  • Your baby isn't physically developed enough to eat solid food from a spoon.

  • Feeding your baby solid food too early may lead to overfeeding and being overweight.

  • As a general rule, solid foods don't help babies sleep through the night.

Signs that your baby is ready for solids include: sitting with support with good head and neck control, showing interest in food when you eat, and opening their mouth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all infants, children, and adolescents take in enough vitamin D through supplements, formula, or cow's milk to prevent complications from deficiency of this vitamin. In November 2008, the AAP updated its recommendations for daily intake of vitamin D for healthy infants, children, and adolescents. It's now recommended that the minimum intake of vitamin D for these groups should be 400 IU per day, beginning soon after birth. Your baby's healthcare provider can recommend the proper type and amount of vitamin D supplement for your baby.

Feeding tips for your child

These are some things to consider when feeding your baby:

  • When starting solid foods, give your baby one new food at a time, not mixtures like cereal and fruit or meat dinners. Give the new food for two to three days before adding another new food. This way you can tell what foods your baby may be allergic to or can't tolerate.

  • Begin with small amounts of new solid foods, a teaspoon at first and slowly increase to a tablespoon.

  • There are no strict rules about what order you should give different foods in. Many people start with an infant cereal or meat and gradually add fruits and vegetables.

  • Breastfeeding babies’ iron storage begin to diminish at about 6 months. Good first choices for solids are those rich in iron such as meats (turkey, chicken and beef) or iron-fortified infant cereals.

  • Don't use salt or sugar when making homemade baby foods. Canned foods may contain large amounts of salt and sugar and shouldn't be used for baby food. Always wash and peel fruits and vegetables and remove seeds or pits. Take special care with fruits and vegetables that come into contact with the ground. They may contain botulism spores that cause food poisoning.

  • Cow's milk shouldn't be added to the diet until the baby is age 12 months. Cow's milk doesn't provide the right nutrients for your baby.

  • Infants younger than 1 should not be given juice. They do not need juice. Whole fruits and vegetables are a much healthier option.

  • Feed all foods with a spoon. Your baby needs to learn to eat from a spoon. Don't use an infant feeder.

  • Avoid honey in any form for the first year because it can cause a type of botulism.

  • Don't put your baby in bed with a bottle. Don’t prop a bottle. Propping the bottle is linked to ear infections and choking. It also leads to cavities.

  • Your baby's healthcare provider can advise you on how to wean a baby off the bottle.

  • Avoid the "clean plate syndrome." Forcing your child to eat all the food on his or her plate even when he or she isn't hungry isn't a good habit. It teaches your child to eat just because the food is there, not because he or she is hungry. Expect a smaller and pickier appetite as the baby's growth rate slows around age 1.

  • Healthy babies do not need extra water. Breast milk or formula provide all the fluids they need. Once your child is taking solids, offering sips of water from a cup is usually fine.

  • Don't limit your baby's food choices to the ones you like. Offering a wide variety of foods early will pave the way for good eating habits later.

  • Fat and cholesterol shouldn't be restricted in the diets of babies and very young children, unless advised by your baby's healthcare provider. Children need calories, fat, and cholesterol for the development of their brains and nervous systems and for general growth.

  • Research shows that peanut allergy can be prevented by introducing peanut-containing foods early in life. Talk to your healthcare provider about when and how to do this.
  • Most babies are ready to finger feed around 9 months when they develop a pincer grasp. To prevent choking, make sure the food is soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces.

Reviewed by Vicky L. Scheid, MD, FAAP


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