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Feeding patterns and diet - babies and infants

An age-appropriate diet:

  • Gives your child proper nutrition
  • Is right for your child's state of development
  • Can help prevent childhood obesity

Alternative names

Babies and infants - feeding; Diet - age appropriate - babies and infants; Breastfeeding - babies and infants; Formula feeding - babies and infants

Recommendations

During the first 6 months of life, your baby needs only breast milk or formula for proper nutrition.

  • Your baby will digest breast milk more quickly than formula. So if you breastfeed, your newborn may need to nurse 8 to 12 times per day, or every 2 to 3 hours.
  • Be sure you empty your breasts regularly by feeding or using a breast pump. This will prevent them from becoming overly full and achy. It will also allow you to continue producing milk.
  • If you feed your baby formula, your baby will eat about 6 to 8 times per day, or every 2 to 4 hours. Start your newborn with 2 to 3 ounces at every feeding (16 to 24 ounces a day).
  • Feed your baby when they seems hungry. Signs include smacking lips, making suckling movements, and rooting (moving their head around to find your breast).
  • DO NOT wait until your baby cries to feed her. This means she is very hungry.
  • Your baby should not sleep more than 4 hours at night without feeding (4 to 5 hours if you are feeding formula). It is OK to wake them up to feed them.

You can tell your baby is getting enough to eat if:

  • Your baby has several wet or dirty diapers for the first few days.
  • Once your milk comes in, your baby should have at least 6 wet diapers and 3 or more dirty diapers a day.
  • You can see milk leaking or dripping while nursing.
  • Your baby starts to gain weight; about 4 to 5 days after birth.

If you are concerned your baby is not eating enough, talk with your pediatrician.

You should also know:

  • Never give honey to your infant. It may contain bacteria that can cause botulism, a rare but serious illness.
  • DO NOT give your baby cow's milk until age 1 year. Babies under age 1 have a difficult time digesting cow's milk.
  • DO NOT feed your baby any solid food until 4 to 6 months old. Your baby will not be able to digest it and may choke.
  • Never put your child to bed with a bottle. This can cause tooth decay. If your baby wants to suck, give them a pacifier.

There are several ways you can tell that your infant is ready to eat solid foods:

  • Your baby's birth weight has doubled.
  • Your baby can control their head and neck movements.
  • Your baby can sit up with some support.
  • Your baby can show you they are full by turning their head away or by not opening their mouth.
  • Your baby begins showing interest in food when others are eating.

When to Call Your Baby's Health Care Provider

Call the provider if you are concerned because your baby:

  • Is not eating enough
  • Is eating too much
  • Is gaining too much or too little weight
  • Has an allergic reaction to food

References

American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129:e827-41. PMID: 22371471 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22371471.

Parks EP, Shaikhkhalil A, Groleau V, Wendel D, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 45.

Update Date 7/10/2015

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