Feeding patterns and diet - babies and infants
An age-appropriate diet:
- Gives your child proper nutrition
- Is right for your child's state of development
- Can help prevent childhood obesity
Diet - age appropriate
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 at every feeding (16 to 24 ounces a day).
- Feed your baby when she seems hungry. Signs include smacking her lips, making suckling movements, and rooting (moving her head around to find your breast).
- Don't 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're feeding formula). It is OK to wake her up to feed her.
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're concerned your baby isn't 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 she is 4 to 6 months old. Your baby won't 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 her 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 his head and neck movements.
- Your baby can sit up with some support.
- Your baby can show you he is full by turning his head away or by not opening his mouth.
- Your baby begins showing interest in food when others are eating.
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if you are concerned because:
- Your child is not eating enough
- Your child is eating too much
- Your child is gaining too much or too little weight
- Your child has an allergic reaction to food
American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics. 2012. 129: e827-e841.
Stettler N, Bhatia J, Parish A, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 42.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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