Feeding patterns and diet - babies and infants

Definition

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 (60 to 90 mL) at every feeding (16 to 24 ounces or 480 to 720 mL 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.

Review date:
October 7, 2015
Reviewed by:
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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