Congratulations — you have a new baby! Now, just how and when are you going to feed this small person? There's a lot to learn about safe and effective feeding for your newborn. Here's some important information to know about newborn feeding.
Feeding at Birth
Newborn feeding can have a big learning curve for new parents. At birth, your baby's stomach is very small. If you are using bottles in the first few days, it is important not to overfeed that tiny stomach, which can cause your baby to spit up. It's normal for newborn babies to eat very frequently, especially if you're breastfeeding. This is called "cluster feeding." During this type of feeding, babies will take in the appropriate amount for their rapidly expanding stomachs.
Eight to 12 feedings in a 24-hour period is normal for newborns. If you're breastfeeding, expect to spend many, many hours feeding your baby during the first few days, weeks, and months of life. Formula-fed newborns also need to eat frequently, but slightly less than babies receiving breast milk. If you're feeding a combination of breast milk and formula, work with a lactation consultant or your doctor to make a plan on when and how to feed both types of milk.
Feeding Through the First Few Months
Pediatricians recommend that infants only consume breast milk or formula for the first few months of life. Do not feed your baby water, juice, or any other substance unless your doctor recommends it.
You may find that a feeding schedule works for you, especially if your baby goes to childcare and is bottle-fed. Just like with newborn feeding, babies who are a few months old will still often eat every two to four hours. If you're with your baby most of the time and breastfeeding, it's fine to continue to feed your baby whenever they seem hungry. Often, babies will want to eat more often when they are going through a growth spurt or an important developmental milestone.
As they grow, some babies will be able to sleep through the night without eating, especially if they're being fed formula, but do not be alarmed if your baby still wakes frequently to feed. This is normal regardless of the type of milk you're giving your baby.
The American Academy of Pediatricians suggests you hold off on feeding your baby solid foods until they're at least six months old. Some parents use developmental milestones, such as being able to sit up unassisted, as a clue to when a baby might be ready to try solid food. You can work with your pediatrician, family doctor, or other medical provider to help determine when your baby is ready. For some, it may be earlier than six months, and for others, it may be a bit later.
Most parents start with simple fruits and vegetables, like bananas or avocados. You can feed your baby pureed baby foods, which are available at any store or fairly simple to make yourself. Some parents also like the baby-led weaning method, which is when babies are fed small, developmentally appropriate pieces of adult food from the beginning (rather than pureed food).
Some new research advises that parents include foods with peanuts during infancy as a way to prevent a future peanut allergy. Talk to your baby's doctor about whether or not this is right for your family.
Feeding Through the First Year
As your baby gets older, you may find that they want to eat more and more solid foods. Some parents will include their baby in normal mealtimes, feeding them breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus breast milk and formula throughout the day.
Continue to feed your baby a variety of healthy foods, including foods specifically formulated for babies and conventional adult foods. Fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and meats are all safe for babies to eat as they approach one year of age. Make sure your baby's diet is colorful and diverse, with lots of different flavors.
Babies are messy eaters, but that's how they learn tastes and textures. There is some research that shows that exposing babies to a variety of diverse foods in infancy can help them become healthier eaters later in life.
No matter when you start solids or which method you choose, your baby should continue to eat breast milk or formula until they are at least a year old.