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
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.
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.