So you've experienced one of life's greatest joys, welcoming your little one to the wonderful world we call Earth. Your baby's first year of life is an exciting and special time filled with innumerable and unforgettable firsts. While this is undoubtedly a very gleeful period, it's also not without its challenges.
As a new parent, you've got a lot on your plate! The common expression "eat, sleep, poop, repeat" severely understates all the behind-the-scenes thoughts that mums and dads have to put into their child's eating and sleeping routines. If you find yourself stewing with questions about how much, when, how, and what to feed your baby, then this guide is for you!
In this article, we'll cover everything related to how you can make appropriate food choices for your little one starting from their first few hours out of the womb up until they hit 12 months of age. If you're keen to help your baby to develop healthy eating patterns be sure to read on!
Recommended Feeding Guide for the First Year
Your precious baby has finally arrived, and arguably one of the most important new jobs that you're tasked with is to feed your child. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first 6 months. Once your baby has begun a diet of solid foods, they should ideally be breastfed throughout their first 12 months or more if parents desire.
In truth, sometimes these recommendations just aren't realistic. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you are unable or prefer not to breastfeed or if you need a little helping hand from formula to provide your baby with a sufficient milk supply.
So long as you're following the advice of medical professionals and your baby is healthy and happy, then in our books, you’re doing great!
If your baby is partially or exclusively formula-fed, a goat or cow's milk-based formula is considered the best alternative to breast milk for little ones under 1 year of age, assuming your little one does not have allergic or digestion problems.
While there are soy-based formulas out there, they should only be used under medical recommendation in cases where using a cow’s milk or goat’s milk formula is not possible. For newborn babies, all of their nutrition should come from breast milk or formula!
Of course, there are general guidelines about infant nutrition which we’ll go over. That being said, bear in mind that all babies are made unique and special, so how much is appropriate for your baby to eat will depend on things like their age, weight, and appetite. We always encourage parents to speak with their pediatrician to help determine a feeding guide that is best suited to their child!
When it comes to newborn babies, you've got a lot of work cut out for you; their tiny tummies need regular feedings day and night. Starting at 1 day old, your little one's tummy is only as big as a marble which is so small that they can only stomach between 1 to 1.4 teaspoons of liquid at a time. Plus, breastfed babies tend to eat more often since breast milk is usually more quickly digested and emptied from the stomach than formula.
From birth to 6 months, most, if not all a baby's calories should be coming from breast milk or formula. Between 6 to 9 months food becomes more experimental for your little one, and you can begin adding variety to their diet as they make the transition from breast milk or formula to solid foods.
This changes around 9 to 12 months when their diet matures and becomes more balanced, at this point, roughly half of your baby's caloric intake should come from breast milk or formula and the other half should come from food.
In the following sections, we'll offer you a baby feeding chart that is based on whether your child is breast milk or formula fed! If you're ever uncertain about baby feeding guidelines, be sure to reach out to your baby's healthcare provider.
Below we've prepared a helpful feeding chart that outlines how frequently your baby should be nursing and how much breast milk or formula they should be consuming based on their age per day. Please keep in mind these are only guidelines and it is important to speak with your pediatrician to determine what’s best for your baby.
Guide for Breastfeeding (0 - 12 months)
The adage, “breast is best,” exists for a reason, breast milk is optimally designed to offer infants and toddlers sufficient nutrition. That being said, both breast milk and formula can be beneficial to your child. Moreover, there are some important differences between the two when it comes to feeding that are worth mentioning.
As a general guideline the frequency of feedings for 0-1 month olds is every 2-3 hours, and then it gradually increases as they age. The frequency for 1-3 month olds is every 3-4 hours, for 6-9 months olds is every 4-6 hours. In this section, we take you through the ins and outs of breastfeeding!
Your baby's first days of life
Medical experts agree that moms should begin breastfeeding within thefirst hour after birth if possible. More specifically, it's thought that the best approach is to initiate skin-to-skin contact by placing your naked baby in the prone position on your bare chest. This method can help your baby to search for your breast as well as maintain a comfortable body temperature.
The earliest stage of breast milk is known as colostrum which is thick, concentrated milk that is usually white, yellow, orange, or colorless and is produced during your little one's first few days after birth. Colostrum is important to your baby's health as it supplies them with immunological support thus helping to protect them from disease—it's pretty amazing what our bodies can do!
How much milk does your breastfed baby need?
When it comes to newborn babies, whether they breastfeed or formulafeed, it's recommended that they eat on-demand, or, in other words, as much and as often as they would like (but at least 8 to 12 times a day).
How much your little one drinks will influence your milk supply. While newborns may not be the most active agegroup and their feeding pattern can seem rather erratic, they are surprisingly good at self-regulating their milk intake!
As a parent, it's important to pay close attention to their hunger cues so you can offer feeds when your baby desires them. You'll probably be glad to hear that as your babygrows, so too does their stomach, meaning they can handle taking in more milk inless time, and slowly a more consistent feeding schedule will naturally emerge.
Is it true that babies fed human milk need more vitamin D?
Yes! If your baby is exclusively or even partially fed breast milk, your baby's pediatrician may likely recommend that you incorporate vitamin D supplements into your child's diet. Even though human milk is thought to be the best source of nutrients for babies, it's usually not sufficient at supplying your baby with all the vitamin D they need.
The AAP recommends a minimum intake of 400 IU of vitamin D per day,in the first few days of life. This vitamin is important for helping your little one to absorb calcium and phosphorus, and deficiencies can cause rickets and poor bone health.
Infant formula is typically fortified with enoughvitamin D, so exclusively bottle-fed babies tend to not need additional supplements. Always make sure you consult your pediatrician before implementing supplements!
Guide for Formula Feeding (0 - 12 months)
Just like babies that breastfeed, it's also generally advised that formula-fed newborns be fed on demand, a.k.a whenever they appear to be hungry.That being said, newborns need to be fed every 2-3 hours, so if they are sleeping through the night, they still need to be fed according to that schedule even if they are not showing signs that they are hungry.
On average,formula-fed newborns eat between 8 and 12 times in 24hours,but it's important to consult your pediatrician to figure out the right amount of formula for your little one. After all, every baby is different!
Your baby's first days of life
It's important to mention that when bottle feeding, this can still be a wonderful opportunity for you to bond with your child. Formula-fed babies tend to feel more secure if the majority of their feedings are given by their mum or dad or their main caregiver.
Feeding time, even from a bottle, can foster closeness between parent and child. This is a moment for you to enjoy holding your little one close to you, you may wish you try doing some skin-to-skin contact while talking to them, and connecting with them through eye contact.
During your newborn's first few days, it's generally recommended that every 2 to 3 hours you offer your little one between 1 and 2 ounces of infant formula (so long as they aren't also getting breast milk). Once their tummies get big enough to hold more milk, babies usually eat every 3 to 4 hours. In general, every month you'll probably have to add an ounce of formula per feeding as your baby gets bigger and their appetite grows.
While a baby feeding chart or table is a helpful guide, nothing you read in a book or online can replace the personal and unique knowledge that you develop as you get to know your child and their feeding patterns. Ultimately, your baby is remarkably good at knowing how much milk they need, so typically, the best strategy is to follow your baby's lead.
That being said, a general rule of thumb is thatyour baby less than 1-month-old shouldn't be taking more than an average of 32 ounces of formula in 24 hours. If you find your baby regularly wanting more or less than this, it's best to reach out to your child's doctor!
How to Tell Whether Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk?
The responsibility bestowed upon you as a new parent is usually followed by a hefty dose of worry. If you find yourself stressing about whether your baby is getting enough to eat, you are not alone! Let's be honest, if you breastfeed it can be pretty darn difficult to know how much milk your baby is getting.
One bonus of bottle feeding is that it tends to be much easier to measure how much milk your baby is taking. One glance at the measurements on your baby's bottle will tell you exactly how many ounces of milk your baby drank.
Whether your little one takes breast milk or formula, some consistent signs can signal to you that your baby has had enough to drink!
Another common concern amongst parents is that babies are losing out on vital nutrients when they spit up. The good news is that most babies have some spit up after feeding or due to burping and as long as this only happens in small amounts it usually shouldn't cause concern.
However, if your baby is vomiting regularly after feedings this may be a sign of digestive issues, allergies, or another medical problem that necessitates a visit to a healthcare professional.
The best way to tell if your baby is getting enough to eat is by checking their weight gain in reference to an infant growth chart when consulting with your pediatrician. If your baby is gaining weight accordingly and is overall happy then you are on the right track!
What if your baby is still hungry?
If you think that your baby still seems hungry after a recent feeding, they usually are! Young babies have small tummies and eating often is just a normal part of the course. Plus if your baby is in the middle of a growth spurt, they'll need to eat more frequently and for longer periods. It takes a lot of energy to go through such rapid growth! That's why it's important to be aware of hunger cues so you can feed your little one when they want it.
How to Get On a Feeding Schedule
Round-the-clock on-demand feeding of your infant is by no means an easy gig to maintain. Likely, your own wish for more regular feeding times coupled with the desire to help set healthy eating patterns for your child has tempted you to put your baby on a feeding schedule.
Surely you have good intentions, but is a feeding schedule the right move for your little one? Well, as it turns out, a baby feeding schedule for infants that are still frequently being nursed both day and night, especially during the first 6 weeks, has been associated with slow weight gain and early weaning.
You see, if you breastfeed, scheduling nursing according to a feeding schedule often contributes to reduced milk production. Eventually, your breasts may undergo engorgement which signals your body to stop producing milk altogether. At this point, it may become necessary to turn to supplementing with formula and eventually weaning.
This is why during your baby's first few weeks of life, it's generally recommended to forgo a feeding schedule and instead watch for your baby's hunger cues to learn when to initiate feeding.Although, it is important to make sure that they are feeding frequently, with no more than 4 hours passing between feedings.
Even in the proceeding months when your child can go longer between eating, feeding on cue is thought to remain the best approach. Besides, your child's eating patterns will naturally become more regular as your baby grows!
Responsive or on-demand feeding rather than using a baby feeding schedule has been linked to healthier growth trajectories, emotional regulation, and positive cognitive outcomes in babies. Here are just a few of the reasons why this may be the case...
It can help breastfed babies adjust to natural changes in human milk
During growth spurt periods, it can help ensure your baby is getting enough to eat
It allows infants to regulate their energy intake as needed
So there you have it, a feeding schedule may sound like it will contribute to good eating habits, but it turns out your baby mostly has it figured out for themselves. That being said, always speak with your baby's healthcare provider if you're concerned or have questions about your child's eating patterns!
Complementary Feedings With Solid Foods
If your little one is getting older and it seems like they're always hungry, they might be ready to explore the wonderful world of solid foods! The AAP and other health organizations recommend that parents wait until their baby is 6 months of age before introducing solid food into their diet.
However, at the 4-month mark, babies have usually developed the enzymes needed to eat foods other than breast milk or formula. Importantly, offering solid foods early (i.e before 4 months of age) can be dangerous to your child's health.
So how can you know if your little one is ready to eat solid food? During mealtimes, they may get very excited, wiggle around and bang on their high chair, make noise to get your attention, grab or point at food, and open their mouths upon the sight of food.
Beyond these behavioral indicators of readiness, there are also some developmental and motor skills to look out for.This includes being able to sit up alone or with support, proper control of their head and neck, opening their mouth when food is offered, bringing objects to mouth, improved grabbing and swallowing by transferring food from the front to the back of the tongue.
If you're ever unsure about introducing solid foods, make sure you consult your baby'shealthcare provider.
Many medical experts encourage baby-led weaning which involves following your baby's signs of hunger and feeding them accordingly. Typically, babies' appetites will fluctuate between meals and days so you can't expect your baby to eat a certain amount of food at every mealtime. Baby-led weaning tends to be better at starting good eating habits than forcing your child to finish all their food during solid meals.
So what kind of solid foods are and aren't appropriate to offer your baby? There are quite a few things that should be avoided when starting solid foods. For instance, plain cow's milk is not suitable for babies under 1 year of age partly because cow's milk lacks all the nutrients your baby needs. In addition, cow’s milk has too many proteins and minerals for your baby’s kidneys to handle and can put them at risk of internal bleeding.
The AAP also suggests not giving fruit juice to infants until after their first birthday as the high sugar content of juice can lead to tooth decay. Even for a young child over one year, fruit juice should be limited, diluted with water, and free of added sugar. Foods with added salt should also be avoided as they can be harmful to your baby’s health and put them at risk of health complications in the future.
Other no-nos include giving honey to your child in their first year as it can put them at risk of infant botulism. It’s also advised that babies and young children not eat round candy, hot dogs, popcorn, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, or hard raw fruits and veggies. Not only are these unsafe, but they may cause your child to choke.
As mentioned above, foods high in salt such as processed meats, frozen dinners and some store-bought packaged snacks should be avoided. Finally, caffeinated beverages like tea, coffee and soft drinks should not be consumed by any child younger than 2 years old.
Okay, so what baby food is safe for little ones who've begun solids? Firstly, it's recommended when introducing solid food to give only one new food at a time and to wait for a few days between introducing another to help you determine if your baby is allergic or unable to tolerate certain foods.
When it comes to healthy foods infant cereal, softly cooked, and finely chopped or pureed vegetables, fruits, and meats are generally accepted as suitable for your six-month-old child,as long as they have no added sugar or salt. It's important to keep in mind that offering a wide variety of foods in addition to breast milk or formula can help enhance the acceptance of new solid food and can pave the way for healthy eating habits early on.
If questions like what, when, and how to feed your little one are running through your mind, you are not alone. These are some of the top concerns amongst new and even seasoned parents. Luckily for you, babies are pretty great at regulating their milk and foodintake, so a regular feeding schedule is usually not necessaryand, in somecases, can even do more harm than good.
Your job is to pay attention to your child's hunger cues, pick up on the signs that they're ready for solids and finger foods, and present them with age-appropriate healthy choices. If in doubt, your baby's healthcare provider can offer you advice to find the right feeding routine for your child!
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends evidenced in babies, it is in no way medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula, and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician prior to making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Disclaimer: Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby, because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
Vitamin d for babies: Are supplements needed?. Mayo Clinic. 2022.
Agustina Fernandez is a medical doctor, who graduated from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Argentina. She has experience working in an emergency room of a public hospital, where she helped many patients with urgent diseases. However, her true passion are children and she is planning on doing her specialization degree in Pediatrics soon. In the past year, she has become interested in researching about infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, infant formula and food in the first years of little ones' lives.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel