Age-by-age guide to feeding babies: How to feed your baby as they grow
Let’s start by defining the term ‘baby’. It can refer to children between the age of 0-4, which includes newborns, infants and toddlers. However, in this article, for the sake of simplicity and brevity, we are going to use the term to refer to children between the age of 0-12 months.
So, what (and how) do you feed a baby?
Baby feeding guide for the first couple months
For the first twelve months of their life, your baby will need breast milk and infant formula. Solid food is a no-no. In the first two months after birth, you should breastfeed your baby every two to three hours, including at night.
After the first couple days, continue breastfeeding as and when your child is hungry, and resist trying to force a schedule. You’ll know your child isn’t getting enough breast milk if they aren’t putting on weight, or are wetting fewer than six diapers a day.
When breast milk is not available or it is not possible to breastfeed, you can use a breast pump, or resort to formula. The first month, you can feed your infant 2-4 ounces of formula, 6-8 times a day. The second month, up the amount to 5-6 ounces, given 5-6 times a day. When your baby is 3-5 months old, you should give them 6-7 ounces of formula 5-6 times a day.
Baby feeding guide from 4 to 6 months
Caring for a baby and giving them food at this age is largely the same as when they are younger. They might be ready for solids, but till you’re sure, stick to breast milk and formula. For signs that they’re ready for solids, skip to the next section.
Limit the amount of breast milk or formula to 6-7 ounces per feeding, and feed them 5-6 times daily.
How to feed your baby at 6 to 9 months
Around the age of 6 months, your baby will start to be prepared for solids. Signs that your baby is ready include sitting up on their own or with a little support, putting things in their mouth, opening their mouth when they see something coming close, and keeping food in their mouth rather than spitting it out onto their chin.
When starting solids or in fact any new foods, give them a very small amount of a single ingredient. Some examples include pureed vegetables, fruit and meat, semi-liquid cereal (mixed with pumped breast milk), and unsweetened yogurt.
Don’t add salt or sugar to their food to make it tastier. Most babies need to taste a new food multiple times before they take to it, so give it time, and be patient. Certainly avoid honey during their first year!
As your baby starts consuming new foods, gradually decrease their intake of breast milk. At 6-9 months of age, you should have 3-5 nursing sessions a day, or 3-5 bottles with 6-8 ounces of breast milk in each.
Don’t restrict your child’s fat and cholesterol intake unless if advised to do so by your child’s health care provider. Children need fat, cholesterol and lots of calories in order for their bodies to grow and develop.
How to feed a baby at 9 to 12 months
When your baby is 9-12 months old, continue to give them breast milk and formula, and gradually introduce new solid foods such as soft cheeses, soft-cooked vegetables, mashed fruit, healthy finger foods (scrambled eggs, cooked potato, spiral pasta, crackers), small bits of meat and boneless fish, well-cooked high-protein foods such as beans, and grains.
You can give them 7-8 ounces, 3-4 times a day of breast milk or formula, ½ to ¾ cup of fruit and vegetables (start with a tbsp.), ¼ to ½ cup grain or grain products, and ¼ to ½ cup of protein-rich foods.
By this time your baby can slowly move towards having three meals a day, plus snacks. Expose them to a wide variety of new foods, giving them a couple tries with each new item and making sure you’re safe. You can give them what the family is having, unless the food contains added sugars, which are not good for children under the age of two.
Breastfeeding guide for the first year
Here are some tips and other information that will help you breastfeed your baby during their first year:
- Feed them in a quiet, comfortable environment, and respond to their demands for food in a prompt, but relaxed manner. This is because if the baby is frustrated or distracted he/she may struggle to latch on.
- Alternate breasts when breastfeeding, and let the child completely empty your breast before switching to the other one. This ensures your child gets hindmilk, which has more fat and nutrients as it is stored deeper in the breast where the fatty milk cells are stored.
- Try to avoid forcing a schedule – instead, follow your child’s cues. Your baby’s eating habits will change as they grow, as will your breast milk, to meet their needs in the best way possible.
- If breastfeeding is not possible, you may pump your breast milk, store it at the appropriate temperature, and use that to feed the baby. Follow the same hunger cues, and avoid forcing a bottle to be emptied.
For new mothers, learning how to breastfeed is key. Make sure your baby is touching your body, tummy to tummy, and avoid pressing on the back of their head for support. If you are a first time mother, make sure you read up on the subject before birth, so you are prepared and able to feed your child in the best way possible – breastfeeding comes naturally to mothers, but it isn’t necessarily easy!
Formula feeding guide, with helpful suggestions
Formula is great for when breast milk isn’t available, or as a supplementary food. Here are some helpful suggestions which will help you ensure you’re giving food to your baby correctly:
- Not all brands are the same, so if you’re unsure which brand to go with, consult your health care provider and ask them for recommendations.
- Baby formula is loaded with calories, protein, calcium and vitamin D, and will be the primary source of these nutrients for the first year of your baby’s life, even after they start to consume solid food.
- Hold both your baby and the bottle when you feed them formula. It is easy and convenient to place your baby on a surface and to prop the bottle up, but doing so may cause your child to have an increased risk of ear infections and tooth decay.
- Avoid forcing a schedule when it comes to giving them formula (or any other food). Instead, do it when your baby seems hungry. You can follow our guidelines above roughly, but try to rely on your baby’s hunger cues and fullness to gauge when and how much to feed them.
- To gauge whether your child is receiving enough formula, check for growth and wet diapers. This is also how you check to ensure your baby is receiving enough breast milk.
- Thinking of switching to cow’s milk? Ask your health care provider first!
If in any doubt or if you have questions, never hesitate to reach out to your health care provider. Your baby’s health is important, and while the internet may be able to offer answers, it is always advisable to check with a doctor that knows your baby and their specific healthcare needs.
Recommended feeding guide for solid foods
Apart from formula and breastfeeding, you can give your baby complimentary feedings after they reach the age of 6 months, or once they demonstrate that they are capable of eating solid food. Here are some suggestions:
- Avoid giving any beverages containing sugar to your baby
- Introduce solid food in a calm environment in which the child is sitting upright with appropriate support, and is somewhat hungry
- Start with very small amounts of food, and gradually increase the amount to a tablespoon or two per session
- Expose your child to a wide variety of smells, flavors and textures, rather than limiting them to foods that you personally like. The wider the range, the healthier their eating habits as they grow up.
- Let your child decide whether they want to eat, and how much they’d like to eat
- Avoid honey during your child’s first 12 months (as mentioned earlier), as it may cause infant botulism
- Fruit juice is not recommended under 1 year of age
Apart from this, remember to be cautious. Observe your baby carefully, and be present and interactive when giving them food.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some questions often asked on search engine sites and parenting forums:
Can I give my 4 month old baby food?
Possibly, but most likely no. Your baby is ready for baby food or other mashed/pureed food items when they start sitting up upright, open their mouth when they see things coming, and keeping food in their mouth. This usually happens around the age of 6 months.
When can you stop feeding the baby every 3 hours?
Once your baby reaches 2 months, you can switch to giving them food every 3-4 hours.
How long are babies fed every 3 hours?
For the first 2 months of their life, your baby will need to be fed every 2-3 hours.
When can I stop waking baby for food?
Once your baby is 6 months old, they are ready to go through the night without food.
How old should a baby be before you give them baby food?
At the age of 4-6 months, your baby will be ready for solid food. It is at this point that you can try giving them fruits, veggies and other solids.
This was everything you need to know to feed your child from birth to the age of one. For more helpful information on the subject of parenting and pregnancy, follow our blog!