Feeding Your Infant

Topic Overview

From birth, infants follow their internal hunger and fullness cues. They eat when they're hungry and stop eating when they're full. Experts agree that newborns should be fed on demand. This means that you breast- or bottle-feed your infant whenever he or she shows signs of hunger, rather than setting a strict schedule. You let your infant stop feeding at will, even if there is milk left in the bottle or your breast still feels full.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breast-feeding babies for at least the first year and giving only breast milk for the first 6 months.1 Although breast-fed babies get the best possible nutrition, they will probably need certain vitamin or nutritional supplements to maintain or improve their health, especially iron. If you are unable to or choose not to breast-feed, feed your baby commercially prepared iron-fortified formula. Cow's milk, goat's milk, and soy milk are not appropriate for babies younger than 1 year of age. They do not contain the amounts of fat, iron, and other nutrients that very young babies need in order to grow and develop properly. Also, the protein in cow's and goat's milk is very hard for young babies to digest.

When your baby reaches 6 months of age, you can begin adding other foods besides breast milk or infant formula to your baby's diet. You and your baby can make this transition smoothly if you follow these tips:

  • Start with very soft foods, such as baby cereal. Iron-fortified, single-grain baby cereals are a good choice, because they provide the iron a growing baby needs and have a low risk of causing food allergies.
  • Introduce one new food at a time. This can help you know if your baby has an allergy to a certain food. You can introduce a new food every 2 to 3 days.
  • As soon as your baby is eating solid foods, look for signs that he or she is still hungry or is full.
  • Pay close attention to your baby's reaction when you are feeding him or her. Follow your baby's lead. Don't persist if your baby isn't interested in or doesn't like the food. Generally:
    • A baby who eagerly leans toward the spoon with his or her mouth open is clearly interested in what you are offering. Feed him or her more.
    • A baby who turns or looks away from the spoon isn't interested in the food you are offering or is full and is ready to stop eating.
    • Continue to offer breast milk or infant formula as part of your baby's diet until he or she is at least 12 months old.

By 12 months, your child will be able to eat many of the same foods the rest of the family eats. Your child can sit with you at the table for short periods of time during meals. Sharing meals with your child allows him or her see you eating a variety of foods, which makes it more likely that your child will also eat a variety of foods as he or she gets older.

As your infant reaches 1 year of age, you may find it helpful to know what your job is and what your child's job is when it comes to eating. Parents provide meal structure. That means you are in charge of deciding when meals and snacks are served, where meals and snacks are eaten, and what is served. Your child's job is to decide how much of the provided foods he or she will eat. This will help you avoid power struggles about food.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics, Section on Breastfeeding (2005). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 115(2): 496–506.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Diagnosis and prevention of iron deficiency and iron-deficiency anemia in infants and young children (0–3 years of age). Pediatrics, 126(5): 1040–1050. Available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/126/5/1040.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised August 29, 2011

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