How, What, and When to Feed your Infant and Toddler
Feeding is about more than nutrition
As a new parent, you will get a lot of advice on how, what, and when to feed your baby. It can be stressful making these decisions, worrying that your child is getting enough to eat, and wondering if she is ready to take the next step when it comes to eating. While you should try to follow the standard guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics on what and how much to feed your infant or toddler, keep in mind that feeding is an important activity for more than just physical growth and development; it is also a way to connect and interact with your new baby. Also, remember that every child is unique, and things like what foods to feed your child, how often she gets hungry, and how much she eats might vary from these recommendations. It is important in these early months and years to discuss your child’s eating habits with your pediatrician and make an eating plan that is right for her.
Feeding guidelines by age
Birth - 4 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a child’s life, and continued breastfeeding for one year. Whether or not to breastfeed exclusively or at all and how long to breastfeed are decisions that mothers will have to make based on your circumstances and what works for you and your baby. You can develop a plan as you go with the help of your pediatrician. Breastmilk, formula, or a combination of both should be the only things your child is consuming at this age. Generally, average-sized infants will drink about 2-3 ounces every 2-3 hours. However, this can vary depending on things like the size of your baby. You and your baby will slowly establish a feeding schedule, and both the quantity consumed and time between feedings will grow. Your baby is able to communicate when he’s had enough or when he is hungry, and you should follow his cues rather than the book. You will know that he is getting enough to eat if he has regular bowel movements, 4-6 wet diapers a day, sleeps well, and is alert when he is awake. Babies need to be burped after each feeding, or often even half way through a feeding, and spit up (not throw up) is normal.
4 - 6 months. By the time your baby is 6 months old, her birth weight will typically have doubled. You may notice that she is still hungry after feedings. She many have even started teething. If she shows any of these behaviors and can also hold her head up and sit in a high chair, talk with your pediatrician about introducing rice cereal. This is the easiest single grain for infants to digest. Start with one teaspoon of cereal mixed with 4-5 teaspoons of breastmilk or formula. Infants should not consume regular milk until they are one year old. It may take some time for your baby to adjust to this new item that’s on the menu. When you start her on cereal for the first time, don’t just put the spoon in her mouth. Put a little bit of cereal on her mouth or tongue and let her taste it. As your baby adjusts to eating cereal, you can introduce other single grains and start to make the cereal thicker. Her staple diet will still be breastmilk or formula, but at least one feeding can be 4-5 tablespoons of cereal.
6 - 8 months. Once your baby has gotten accustomed to cereal and is over 6 months old, it is time to introduce fruits and vegetables. Start by introducing each fruit and vegetable one at a time at separate feedings. If you choose to prepare your baby’s food yourself, these items should be well pureed with no other ingredients added. Start by mixing one teaspoon of a fruit/vegetable with your baby’s cereal and slowly increase this to up to half a cup by the time he is about 8 months old. If you buy baby fruits or vegetables in jars, spoon some into a separate bowl rather than feeding directly from the jar because the remainder can get contaminated. After one day, the contents of an opened jar should be thrown away. By this time, your baby should be eating this cereal mixture for 2-3 feedings, with breastmilk or formula if he is still hungry during or in between feedings. You can also introduce watered down white grape or apple juice in a sippy cup. Things to avoid include citrus fruits, cow’s milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and eggs because of allergies.
8 - 12 months. As your child approaches her first birthday, you can start to mash some of the things you eat and give them to her, or buy textured and mixed baby food. You can introduce meat and also things like dry cereal or crackers, but make sure foods are small and soft (or light and flakey for cereal/crackers) to prevent choking. If she isn’t already, your soon to be toddler should eat with the family at mealtimes. Let her try to feed herself finger foods. You can also introduce pasteurized cheese and yogurt. Still stay away from regular milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and exotic and citrus fruits.
12 months and older. After your child’s first birthday, you can start to introduce all the foods you eat into his diet. However, The AAP recommends that you do not give children under the age of 5 gum or hard candy because the majority of choking in children of this age is caused by those foods. Don’t give up on new foods – sometimes it takes a while for children to get used to the taste. You can start giving your child all fruits and eggs, but talk to your pediatrician about peanuts and tree nuts. You can also transition to regular milk. Unless the pediatrician tells you otherwise, you should give your child whole milk until he is two years old and then switch to low fat milk. As you add these new foods to your child’s diet, you may discover a food allergy. For more information on food allergies, see One Tough Job’s fact sheet on Allergies. For more information on getting your child to eat a variety of foods, see One Tough Job’s fact sheet on Feeding Your Family.
For more information, visit Zero to Three or Babycenter.com.