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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

Diet - age appropriate

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 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

References

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.


Review Date: 8/22/2013
Reviewed By: 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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