The first year of your baby’s life is a crucial stage of growth and development. They will go from a tiny, wrinkly newborn to a bouncy, boisterous babe in no time. That is, provided they get the right nourishment.
Nourishment and nutrients come from food. Food is and always has been fuel for the human body. We might now consider things like taste, cost, and presentation, but in the most basic form, it is no different from gas for your car.
As a parent, it is your job to choose and deliver the fuel so that your baby can convert it to energy. This energy is used for growth and development all across the body from microscopic neurons in the brain, to the visible height changes.
Unfortunately, unlike fueling your car, you have more than just one or two options. There is a furious debate about how to give your child the best start in life. It leaves new parents wondering whether breast is best, what formula is appropriate, when they should introduce solids, and what foods to avoid.
These are tricky questions to answer at the best of times. When you’re sleep-deprived and coping with a crying newborn they seem impossible!
That’s why we’ve put together a complete guide that will take you through the first year of feeding. Whether you’re preparing to welcome your newborn, or you’re up at 3 am trying to figure out what will fill the seemingly bottomless pit in your crying 8-month-old, the answers are right here.
Basics of Infant Nutrition
Understanding what your baby needs to be happy, healthy, and fuelled can help you make the best choices when it comes to food.
You also need to understand how babies process and handle different foods. You see, human babies are born underdeveloped.
Compared to other animals, humans have a very short pregnancy which is why human babies are so helpless. A baby giraffe, for instance, can walk after a few short hours. A human baby takes around 2 years before they can totter.
This underdevelopment has helped us climb the evolutionary ladder but it does mean that we need to be more careful and involved when it comes to feeding our babies.
The key thing to remember is that your baby is not capable of digesting complex foods until their digestive system matures. This usually happens at around 6 months but each baby is different.
Until their digestive system matures, your baby will need to be on a milk only diet.
Solids can be introduced slowly after 6 months or earlier on the advice of your pediatrician.
There are a few foods that should be avoided until the baby is older. We will cover these in detail later, but essentially if a food contains bacterias or the risk of bacteria it should be avoided. Adults have sufficiently strong immune systems to mitigate these risks but babies do not.
Let’s now take a quick look at the nutrients your baby needs to grow healthy and strong in the first year of their lives.
Calcium- This is key for strong bones and teeth. It’s particularly important for babies who are in the process of growing teeth and calcifying their bones.
Milk, breast or formula, is a baby’s main source of calcium in the first year of their lives.
Fat – Fat is turned into energy which is used all around the body. Fat is also used to help the brain develop, boost the immune system, and keep your baby’s skin and hair healthy.
Fat makes up a large part of breast milk. It’s good fat though! Not a saturated fat in sight!
Iron – This is used to build red blood cells and develop the brain.
Babies are born with a store of iron that will see them through about 4 months. After this point, breastfed babies should get some iron supplements in their diet. This is because breast milk doesn’t contain enough iron.
Protein and carbohydrates –These are converted into energy that is used for daily activities such as moving, digesting, and growing. Essentially, these nutrients are the calorie components.
Folates – Folates help cells divide which is essential for growth.
Folates are found in breast milk and formula. Breastfeeding women are advised to take folic acid daily to help boost their production of folates.
Zinc –This is used by your baby’s cells to help them grow and repair.
Up to 6 months of age, breast milk will provide enough zinc for your baby. After that point, they will need to get their zinc from solids or formula.
Vitamins – Your baby, just like you, requires a raft of vitamins to help support bodily growth and function.
Formula milk usually contains all the vitamins your baby needs to prosper. Breast milk will also contain the right vitamins provided you get them through your diet.
A Feeding Timeline
At a glance, here are the feeding milestones your baby should be hitting in their first year.
You must remember that babies develop at their own pace. If they’re a bit behind or a bit ahead of this timeline, don’t panic.
We advise that you speak to your pediatrician about any concerns you may have or if you want to move on to a new step earlier or later than usual.
|Age (months)||Food stage|
|0-4||Breast milk or formula only.|
|6-8||Milk is still the main source of food. However, they can begin sampling some solids provided they are cut up or blended.|
Milk will provide all the essential nutrients your baby needs up to 6 months of age. However, there is some evidence that allowing your baby to try foods at 4 or 5 months helps prevent allergies.
|8-10||Still drinks milk but supplements with some solid food. |
Your baby will likely start reaching for your food and opening their mouths when a spoon is presented to them.
They will also start using their fingers and thumbs to pick up food and feed themselves.
|10-12||At this point, they’ll be taking some milk, but most of their food will be solid.|
They should be beginning to feed themselves with their hands, but should also begin to use a spoon independently.
Now that we have an overview, let’s take a look at each milestone in detail.
Breast Milk vs Formula
Whether you plan on breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, the first few feeds help get your baby used to the actual act of feeding. Your little one will need to get used to the feel of your nipple or the teat and they will need to develop their suckling skills.
We will take a look at how to make the most of these feeds whether your breast or bottle feeding. But first, let’s address the fierce debate that rages around breastfeeding and bottle feeding.
The first thing to be aware of is that the term ‘bottle feeding’ doesn’t automatically mean formula. Some women express their breast milk and feed from a bottle. This might be due to time or schedule conflicts. because the baby struggles to latch, or simply as a way of allowing their partner to feed the baby.
The real debate focuses on whether breastmilk or formula milk is the best food source for babies.
It is, at times, an incredibly fierce debate, often fuelled on both sides by emotional, social, and religious beliefs. It’s not the place of this article to share or dispel those arguments. What we’re here to do is look at the facts.
Breast milk is nutritionally better for babies. Not because it has higher levels of nutrients, but because the nutrients are more suitable for digestion by human babies.
Formula tends to be made from cow’s milk that has been dried and treated. The treatment makes the milk more digestible for your baby than standard cow’s milk.
Formula milk is based on the whey and proteins found in cow’s milk. Nutrients like zinc and iron are usually added to the formula so that the mix produces everything the baby needs.
Breast milk has also been proven to protect babies from certain infections and conditions including asthma, diabetes, and meningitis. This is because antibodies from the mother are passed on to the baby through the milk.
Even though breast milk offers benefits that formulas don’t, the formulas that are around now are safe and healthy alternatives to breast milk.
Formula contains the nutrients your baby needs to thrive. This is regulated by the FDA across all formula brands.
So if you’re having trouble with breastfeeding, or simply can’t breastfeed, you should not feel guilty about using formula instead.
The First Feeds
In the first few days of your baby’s life, you will spend a lot of time bonding. Feeding is one of the key bonding times because of the intimacy of the activity and the frequency.
In the first week, you might find that your baby wants to feed as often as once an hour. This is ok. They won’t be taking much each feed at this point. After a week or so they should settle down to longer but fewer feeds.
The amount of milk your baby needs will depend on whether you are breastfeeding or formula feeding.
It’s impossible to overfeed a breastfeeding baby. Your baby will tell you when it’s hungry by turning towards the nipple, sucking its fingers, or murmuring.
When you notice these signs you should allow your baby to feed. It is much more difficult to try and soothe a crying baby with milk than it is to feed before they start to cry.
When the baby has had enough they will unlatch and turn away. At this point, you should stop. There’s no need to try and encourage them to take more milk. They will feed again when they’re hungry.
You’ll probably notice that the first milk you produce is almost golden. This milk is called colostrum and it’s incredibly dense in nutrients. It’s because of the high quality of this milk that your baby will feed little and often in the first few days.
After about a week, your milk will ‘come in’ and you’ll notice that it’s more like normal milk in appearance. When this happens, your baby will probably settle into a more manageable feeding routine.
As a rough guide, you should be feeding your baby at least 8-12 times in 24 hours for the first week. To reiterate, this is a rough guide. Your baby may want to feed many more times or far fewer times a day.
The key thing to remember is to be a responsive feeder. That is, you feed when the baby indicates that they are hungry.
If you are using formula, similar rules apply. Feed your baby before they start to cry when they show signs of hunger.
Initially, they will take small amounts of milk often. This means that they won’t always finish off what you have in the bottle. Again, it’s best not to force them to drink.
If you have formula leftover, make sure it goes straight in the refrigerator. You can reuse it within 24 hours.
As with breastmilk, by the end of the first week, they should have settled into a more manageable feeding schedule.
In the first few days, you’ll be feeding as little as 1 – 2 oz of formula per feed. This will increase gradually as your baby grows.
A Note on Formula
Formula comes in two different forms, powder or ready to go. Powdered formula needs to be mixed with sterilized water, while ready to go milk just needs to be heated.
There are pros and cons to both, however, powder lasts longer, is much cheaper, and is generally easier to come by.
Ready to go milk, while more convenient, can’t be stored for more than 2 days when opened. If your baby doesn’t finish the bottle at that point it needs to be thrown.
With powder, you have a lot more control over how much milk you makeup and therefore how much is leftover in the fridge.
Another great thing about powdered formula is that your unused and unopened containers can be sold when your baby no longer needs them. This is great news as babies are incredibly expensive. Selling the mountains of gifted formula you tend to get or the bulk buys you never end up using can help pay for some of those baby-related expenses.
Choosing a formula can be tricky, there are lots of different brands offering lots of different ‘specialty kinds of milk.’ You’ll see them labeled as advanced, pro, hypoallergenic, follow on, and various other names.
Ultimately, as long as the formula is suitable for use from birth, you don’t need to change to a different formula as they get older. There is no evidence that these advanced or ‘super, hyper pro’ formulas have a greater impact on your baby’s growth and development.
1 Week – 4 Months
As mentioned above, in these months you will be feeding exclusively with milk. Whether your breastfeeding, expressing, or formula feeding, as long as it’s only milk, it’s fine.
As your baby grows they will naturally need more milk to help them grow and develop.
Below you’ll find a chart of recommended feeding sizes based on the baby’s age and the type of milk. It should be noted that these are general guidelines, not strict rules.
Your baby will drink when they are hungry and stop when they’re full. This method of feeding is called responsive feeding or on-demand feeding.
Responsive feeding has become increasingly popular over the last few years. However, there are still very few studies into the difference between schedule fed babies and responsive fed babies.
Those studies that do exist suggest that responsive feeding has some important benefits for baby and mother. These benefits include improved intellectual development and attainment.
If you’re concerned that your baby isn’t eating enough or that they’re always hungry, speak to your pediatrician.
|Age(months)||Formula per feed(oz)||Number of breast or formula feeds per 24 hours.||Maximum formula volume per 24 hours|
|0-1||≅ 4 oz||6-8||24 oz|
|2||≅ 6 oz||5-6||32 oz|
|3||≅ 7 oz||5-6||32 oz|
|4||≅ 7 oz||5-6||32 oz|
You’ll notice that there isn’t an amount given for breastfeeding. This is because it’s impossible to measure how much breast milk they are taking unless you express it.
It’s important to remember that at this age, babies will stop feeding when they are full but these guidelines should help you when it comes to preparing bottles.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
For the first four months, breastmilk and formula should provide enough vitamins and minerals for your baby. The exception is vitamin D which is only produced by the body when it gets direct sunlight.
Breastmilk won’t provide enough vitamin D for your baby. As such you’ll need to speak to your doctor about vitamin D drops. These are added to the milk once a day to boost the vitamin levels.
Most formulas do provide enough vitamin D. The recommended amount of vitamin D for babies under a year is 400 IU. Generally, if your baby is taking 32 oz of formula each day, they won’t need drops. If they are taking less they may need them.
Between the ages of 4 and 6 months, your baby’s primary food is still milk. It is from milk that they will get their nutrients and their energy.
However, you may be able to start introducing some solid foods at this point. These solids should be tasters rather than meal replacements.
The idea is that by introducing solid foods to the baby, their body learns to accept them and so allergies are reduced. However, the solids are introduced too slowly to be a reliable source of nutrients or energy for your baby.
Before you start introducing your baby to solid foods you need to make sure that they are physically able to handle these foods.
First and foremost, your baby needs to be able to sit upright and have good control over its head and neck. If they can’t sit unaided in a high chair, don’t start with solids.
The other thing to look out for is their tongue control. Until your baby is ready for solids, their tongue will automatically push food out of the mouth.
When your baby can use their tongue to move food from the front to the back of the mouth, they are ready to start trying solid foods.
Don’t rush this step. If they’re not ready in 4 months, that’s fine.
Tips for Introducing Solids
- Take it one food at a time. You don’t want to offer them mixes like cereal and fruit or meat and veg.
- Introduce one food slowly over a few days before introducing the next. Giving your baby a few days to respond and react to the food. This will help you identify any allergies or intolerances.
- Start small. Begin with a teaspoon and gradually increase as they get used to the food.
- It’s best to start with infant cereal before moving onto fruits, veg, and then meats.
- Breast or formula milk must be used for the rice cereal as babies under a year should not drink cow’s milk.
- Be aware of how much salt and sugar is in packaged food. Your baby does not need additional salt or sugar.
- Do not give your baby fruit juices until they’re over a year old.
- Infant cereals should not be solely rice-based. Too much rice in their diet can expose them to arsenic.
Below you’ll see a table that highlights the feeding recommendations for babies between 4 and 6 months.
You’ll notice that the solid food guidelines are measured in teaspoons per feed per day. This amount should only be given when the baby is familiar with the food. In the first few days of introduction, the amount will be fairly negligible.
Remember that the recommended amounts for solid foods are optional at this stage. You don’t have to feed them rice cereal, fruit, veg and meat each day. Just let them have a few bites when they are hungry before going to the bottle.
|Food||Amount per Day||Feeds per Day|
|Breastmilk or formula||28 – 32 oz||4-6|
|Infant cereals with formula or breastmilk||3 – 5 tbs||1 or 2|
|Fruits||1-2 tbsp||1 or 2|
|Vegetables||1-2 tbsp||1 or 2|
|Meat||1-2 tbsp||1 or 2|
Remember to wash any fruits and veg you feed to your baby. You need to be especially vigilant when feeding them fruit and veg that have come into contact with the ground as these can sometimes carry botulism spores.
Also, remember that at this stage any ‘solid’ food needs to be blended or mashed. Your baby won’t be able to chew whole food.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Your baby should continue to take vitamin D drops as advised by your doctor. Remember that it is especially important that breastfed babies take vitamin D supplements.
After the age of 4 months, you’ll most likely need to give your baby iron drops in addition to vitamin D drops. This is generally only true of breastfed babies as formulas tend to be fortified with iron.
6 – 8 Months
By the age of 6 months, your baby should begin eating complementary solid foods. Essentially, these are larger amounts of solids from which the baby can obtain some nutritional benefits.
You’ll notice that the purpose of these foods are different from when you were simply introducing them at around 4 months.
As with before, you’ll want to give these foods in a mashed, strained, or pureed form. However, as they become more confident with solid foods you can begin to feed them slightly lumpier textures.
The recommendations for the kinds of foods to feed are pretty much the same as before. Fortified cereals mixed with breastmilk or formula, fruits, vegetables, and meats.
As before, you’ll want to introduce new foods slowly and one at a time. You can, at this point include foods from the allergens groups like nuts, fish, and eggs provided there isn’t a family history of reactions.
|Food||6 months||7 months||8 months|
|Breastmilk or formula||28 – 32 oz, 4-6 times a day.||30 – 32 oz, 3 – 5 times a day.||30 – 32 oz, 3-5 times a day.|
|Infant cereals||3 – 5 tbs, 1 – 2 times a day.||3 – 5 tbs, 1 – 2 times a day.||5 – 8 tbs, 1 – 2 times a day.|
|Fruit||1 – 2 tbsp, 1 – 2 times a day.||2 – 3 tbs, 2 times a day.||2 – 3 tbs, 2 times a day.|
|Vegetables||1 – 2 tbsp, 1 – 2 times a day.||2 – 3 tbs, 2 times a day.||2 – 3 tbs, 2 times a day.|
|Meat||1 – 2 tbsp, 1 – 2 times a day.||1 – 2 tbsp, 2 times a day.||2 – 3 tbs, 2 times a day.|
Remember that at this age, milk is still the biggest source of nutrients. Solid foods are like snacks and shouldn’t replace milk feeds.
9 – 12 Months
During these months, your baby will gradually move towards eating 3 meals a day consisting mainly of solid foods.
They will still drink milk as their main form of fluid intake but you should notice that they are gradually drinking less milk and eating more solids.
From 9 months, your baby should be able to manage finger foods and you can start some baby-led weaning.
The idea behind baby-led weaning is that you choose what foods to offer but the baby chooses what to eat.
You’ll know if your baby is ready for this because they’ll be able to pick up foods between their finger and thumb. They’ll also start to develop a chewing motion which will help them with different textures.
As they approach 12 months, they should be getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner with milk feeds in between if they are hungry.
Wherever possible, your baby should eat with you as they learn from observing adults.
From 9 months onwards you can offer your baby food from the following food groups:
- Carbohydrates or starches
Dairy products need to be pasteurized to be safe for your baby. Suitable foods include pasteurized yogurts and cheeses.
You can use unpasteurized full fat cow’s milk in cooking but it shouldn’t be given as a drink until after their first birthday.
Remember that added salt and sugar are no good for your baby. As they get older they will likely start eating more and more packaged food like yogurt or meats. If this is the case, you need to check the nutritional ingredients for the sugar and salt content.
Also during these months, your baby will start to develop some independence when it comes to feeding. They’ll pick up the finger food you offer them and will begin to use a spoon or fork.
It’s a messy but vital stage. Doing the feeding for your baby to avoid a mess is not the answer. This will delay their development.
While milk will be your baby’s main source of hydration, you can offer a sippy cup of water with meals. Learning to drink from a cup is another vital skill that they will need to learn.
Your baby will also begin teething at this stage. You can offer them teething cookies such as rusks or arrowroot cookies to relieve some of the discomforts.
|Food||9 months||10 – 12 months|
|Breastmilk or formula||30 – 32 oz, 3 – 5 times a day.||24 – 32 oz, 3-4 times a day|
|Infant cereals||5 – 8 tbs, once a day.||5 – 8 tbs, once a day.|
|Fruit||2 – 4 tbs, 2 times a day.||2 – 4 tbs, 2 times a day.|
|Vegetables||2 – 4 tbs, 2 times a day.||2 – 4 tbs, 2 times a day.|
|Meats and proteins||2 – 3 tbs, 2 times a day.||2 – 3 tbs, 2 times a day.|
|Starches||¼ – ½ cup, 2 times a day.||¼ – ½ cup, 2 times a day.|
Tips for Preparing Foods
When your baby begins eating solid foods in earnest you can give them the chance to eat foods without blending them.
However, even at 12 months, your baby still has a small throat susceptible to blockages from larger foods. As such, you must prepare food safely and watch your baby closely during meals.
The CDC lists examples of foods that can become choking hazards here. Below are some tips for avoiding these hazards.
- Chop round foods in half lengthways so they are less likely to block the throat. If they’re still a bit big, quarter them.
- Long foods like hot dogs or cucumbers are better off sliced into sticks or batons. These are easier to hold and less likely to get stuck in the throat.
- Be wary of dry foods like crackers, cereals, and bread. The crumbs can cause the baby to cough and splutter. Make sure you offer some water for them to wash it down with.
- If you are serving meat or fish, make sure all bones and skins are removed. Cut them into small chunks that can be chewed and swallowed.
- For small food items like peas, nuts, or chickpeas, mash them lightly with a fork before serving.
Foods to Avoid
In general, it’s a great idea to encourage your baby to try lots of different foods. They shouldn’t be limited to foods you like or restricted to adult diets. The wider range of foods your baby tries the wider their palette will be as they grow.
There are, however, some foods that should be avoided or limited while your baby is under 12 months. These foods tend to present a particular risk of infection or illness.
- Honey – Honey often contains botulism spores which can make your baby very ill. Also, honey contains a lot of sugar which can be particularly damaging to newly developing teeth.
- Unpasteurized foods – this includes milk, yogurt, cheeses, and juices. These foods carry an increased risk of e.coli bacteria which can cause fatal infections.
Pasteurized versions of these foods are fine for your baby to eat.
- Fortified cow’s milk – this contains too much protein for a baby under 12 months. It can seriously affect their kidneys.
- Whole nuts – these present a significant choking hazard to young children. If you are feeding nuts, chop or mash them first.
- Fish high in mercury – these fish tend to fall in the sharks, swordfish, and marlin category so aren’t particularly common in most diets. However, tuna carries a medium level of mercury and should not be fed too frequently.
- Raw shellfish – there is an increased risk of food poisoning with raw shellfish. This can be very severe in babies.
The above foods should be avoided in your baby’s first year. The risks are far too high for an infant. There are other foods that should be eaten in moderation. They include:
- Foods high in salt – salty meats, processed foods, chips, and other snacks tend to have higher levels of sodium. Limit or avoid these foods. Sodium can damage your baby’s kidneys.
- Foods high in sugar – sugar causes tooth decay and can increase the risk of obesity. Give sugary foods like ice cream, cookies, and cake as a rare treat not an everyday snack.
While your baby mainly drinks milk, they don’t require any other drinks. This means that until about 6 months of age, you won’t need to give them water except in the case of exceptional heat.
From 6 months old, your baby can have small sips of water to wash down food. You need to remember that your baby’s stomach is very small and it can easily get filled up with water.
Large amounts of water in short spaces of time can cause water toxicity. This can be caused pretty quickly in babies as their stomachs are so small and their kidneys underdeveloped.
So, the rule is, none before 6 months and small sips after 6 months.
In terms of other drinks, we’ve already mentioned that unpasteurized substances like fruit juice and milk can carry e.coli. These should not be given before 12 months and limited after that age.
Cow’s milk can be given as a drink from the age of 12 months but not before. It does not contain the right levels of iron but it will fill up their tummies.
Sugary and carbonated drinks like soda and milkshakes should not be given to babies. It contains too much sugar and not enough nutritional content.
In the later months of your child’s first year, you’ll want to start getting them used to different textures. Up until about 9 months of age, everything they’ve eaten will have been liquid or pureed till smooth.
As they begin to wean off milk you’ll want to introduce them to different textures. You can start by lightly mashing instead of pureeing food and eventually move to chopped or ground foods.
At first, your baby might find these textures confusing or uncomfortable. They might pull faces or spit the food out.
This is ok. Just try to be patient and let your baby choose the food when they are ready.
It’s important to keep offering them textured foods even if they’ve pulled a face or spat it out before. Often babies need to try a food a few times to get used to it. As long as it’s offered, they will eventually become accustomed to the taste and texture.
In their first year of life, your baby will have tripled their birth weight and grown on average about 7 inches in length. Those first 12 months are the most intense in terms of growth that your baby will know in their entire life.
You need to provide them with the right fuel to help them grow and develop. This means choosing foods or milk that provides them with the right nutrients.
However, food is also important in their development as human beings. Learning how to eat, how to use cutlery, or how to drink out of a cup are important milestones for your baby.
It’s also important to use this time to introduce them to new tastes and textures ready for their adult life.
We know that that first year can become a bit of a blur of feeds, diaper changes, and sleepless nights. Hopefully, this guide provides you with some clarity in those challenging but rewarding times.