Feeding Your Baby Through the First Year
Contributing Expert: Tara Kotagal, MD
This post is part of our newborn health and wellness series. For more information from our pediatric experts, visit our Newborn Resources page.
Your baby’s feeding needs change so much over the course of the first year. By 12 months, they will be eating a wide variety of foods. Lurie Children’s pediatricians have put together this guide to help you and your baby hit feeding milestones, from birth through the first year.
Stage 1: The First 2 Weeks
In the early days of life, you’re learning to feed your baby as they are learning to live outside the womb. It’s a big adjustment for both of you. Your goal in the first couple of weeks should be to offer frequent feeds and learn your baby’s feeding cues.
Most babies lose a little bit of weight after birth. Your baby’s goal in the first two weeks of life is to get back to their birth weight.
Aim to feed your baby every three hours, on average. If bottle feeding, start with 1–3 ounces per feed. You can slowly increase the bottle size over time.
If nursing, aim for 15 to 30 minutes for each nursing session. It may take a few days for a nursing parent’s milk supply to come in, and frequently stimulating the breast will help build your supply.
By the second week, you and your baby should be settling into a routine. Pay attention to your baby’s feeding and hunger cues and take it one day at a time.
Stage 2: 2 Weeks to 4 Months
This is an incredible stage of growth and development, and your baby’s goal is to gain about an ounce of weight each day. Your pediatrician will be working with you to track your baby’s weight closely.
If you are bottle feeding, your baby will start to take in more milk at each feeding. If you are breastfeeding, you may notice that your baby starts to nurse more efficiently.
Your baby should also be settling into a routine around eating and sleeping and you may find their habits to be more predictable. At this stage, your baby may start sleeping for longer stretches overnight and will not wake to feed as frequently.
Remember that as your baby is growing and developing, their feeding habits and patterns might change. If they are going through a period of rapid growth and development, they may start to feed more frequently (also known as cluster feeding). Try to follow their hunger cues and be flexible as your baby might develop new feeding patterns.
Stage 3: 4 - 6 Months
During this stage, your baby’s daily rate of weight gain may start to slow down. This is normal! Hopefully your baby has a feeding routine that works for your family.
If you have childcare, talk to your childcare provider about establishing a daily feeding schedule. Reinforcing that schedule at home will be helpful for both you and your baby.
Many families will continue to breastfeed beyond the first six months. Other families will be transitioning to or continuing to offer formula. Your pediatrician will work with you on tracking your baby’s growth and will discuss if you need to supplement with formula.
As your baby grows and develops, they develop new skills. By about four months, many babies can sit with support and have some head and neck control. At six months, babies should be able to sit up independently.
At your four- and six-month check-ups, your pediatrician will talk with you about your baby’s development and if they are ready for tastes of solids. Remember that every baby is different and you should always check with your pediatrician if you have questions.
There are many ways to start introducing solids into the diet. You can incorporate baby cereal into your baby’s diet, as a complement to nursing or formula. Start with one solid and slowly introduce soft foods like purees or mashed banana over a series of days and weeks.
Stage 4: 6 – 9 Months
By six months, babies are getting better at grasping and can grab larger things and palm them in their hand. Think about offering finger foods, like a soft piece of fruit or vegetable.
This is when you can really start to explore different foods and flavors with your baby.
Always start off very slow, introducing one new ingredient every 3–5 days. Your pediatrician will talk with you about introducing foods that are known allergens. They’ll determine if your baby has a risk factor, like severe eczema or a first degree relative with a peanut allergy. If you are cleared, you can start introducing (one at a time) the common allergens.
Babies love the social aspect of eating! Bring your baby to the table for meals and eat with them. Don’t be afraid to get silly and to model feeding behaviors. Talk about the foods you are eating, make “mmm” and “yummy” sounds, and show your baby how you put food in your mouth.
Your baby will love learning from you and will start to copy what you are doing. You can also start offering a sippy cup and small amounts of water at six months.
Stage 5: 9 – 12 Months
As babies get closer to their first birthday, their motor skills get better and better. They can start to pinch and grab foods like Cheerios and smaller pieces of food. They are even able to hold onto big spoons and forks. If offering smaller pieces of finger foods, keep an eye out for their shape and texture and do not offer anything that could be a choking hazard.
As your baby’s solid food intake increases, they will likely take less milk in their diet. By 12 months old, babies should be eating three meals a day and one or two snacks. If your baby takes formula, transition them to vitamin D fortified whole milk at one year of age.
If you are breastfeeding, you can also make the transition to whole milk or continue breastfeeding as long as it works for you and your baby (just remember to continue those vitamin D drops!).
Introduce your baby to a variety of flavors and textures. Have fun with the eating process and don’t be afraid to get messy!
In addition to expert specialty care, Lurie Children’s offers several primary care locations around the Chicago area for your child's healthcare needs — from infancy through childhood and adolescence. Learn more about our primary care services.
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