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 breastfeeding babies for at least the first year and giving only breast milk for the first 6 months.1 Although breastfed 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 breastfeed, feed your baby commercially prepared iron-fortified formula. In some cases, doctors advise adding a thickening agent to breast milk or formula. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits before using one.
If at any time you are having trouble feeding your baby, talk to your doctor or nurse.
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 about 6 months of age, you can begin adding other foods besides breast milk or infant formula to your baby's diet. Some babies may be ready for solid foods at 4 or 5 months. Ask your doctor when you can start feeding your baby solid foods. And if a family member has food allergies, ask whether and how to start foods that might cause allergies. Most allergic reactions in children are caused by eggs, milk, wheat, soy, and peanuts. You and your baby can make this transition to other foods 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.
- If your doctor thinks your baby might be at risk for a peanut allergy, ask him or her about introducing peanut products. There may be a way to prevent peanut 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.
Juice does not have the valuable fiber that whole fruit has. Unless the label says the drink has only 100% juice, beware that many fruit drinks are just water, a little juice flavoring, and a lot of added sugar. If you must give juice, water it down. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than 4 fl oz (120 mL) to 6 fl oz (180 mL) of 100% fruit juice a day for children 1 to 6 years old.2 This means ½ cup to ¾ cup. Juice isn't recommended for babies 0 to 12 months.
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Policy statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3): e827–e841. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.
- Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics (2001, reaffirmed 2006). The use and misuse of fruit juice in pediatrics. Pediatrics, 107(5): 1210–1213. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/107/5/1210.full.
Current as of: August 3, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine