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Feeding Your Baby: Newborn to One Year

Confused about when and what to feed your baby? Our expert guides you through the ages and stages.
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Sara DuMond, MD

It's OK to admit it, new parents: You're feeling a bit frantic about feeding your baby. You'll be relieved to know it doesn't require a degree in nutrition science. From breast and bottle feeding through starting solids, you can have a game plan. Pediatrician Jennifer Shu, co-author of Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed With Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup, shares her insight into what your baby should eat and drink to stay healthy during the first year.

Birth to 4 Months

Whether you decide to formula-feed, breastfeed, or use a mix of both, a liquid diet is all your baby needs for the first few months.

  • For breastfeeding, let baby be the boss. Watch your baby's cues to know how much and how often to feed her. If she starts turning her head or pushing away, she's probably done. If she wakes up from a nap and starts sucking on her fingers, it's time to feed again.
  • For formula-feeders, always be sure to mix the formula according to the instructions on the label. And don't forget to wash your hands before you handle the formula or bottle.
  • Try to get your baby comfortable drinking liquids at room temperature or straight from the fridge so you can skip the step of heating them.
  • Offer only the amount of formula you think your baby will finish at one sitting. Once the bottle has touched her mouth, it's good for only about an hour, at which point bacteria starts to multiply in the bottle.

4 Months to 1 Year

It’s time to start solids. Typically, babies 4 to 6 months are introduced to solids slowly. Think safety first -- offer food that's small, soft, and smooth to avoid choking as your baby learns the mechanics of chewing and eating.

  • Although rice cereal has long been the recommended first food, it's not the only choice you have. The latest thinking is that any single-ingredient food -- meat, fruit, vegetables, or cereal -- is a good starting point as long as it covers the bases of small, soft, and smooth. While meat might be a surprise to some parents, it's a good choice because it's high in iron that's better absorbed by babies than the iron in infant cereal.
  • Be on allergy alert. Wait at least three days before working a new food into the rotation so you can watch for allergy symptoms that can develop immediately, such as swelling or breathing problems, or more slowly, such as hives or eczema.
  • Be sure to keep old foods in the rotation to build up a well-rounded menu of flavors and textures.
  • Hold off giving your baby whole milk until 1 year. When it comes to introducing yogurt, most pediatricians recommend waiting until your baby is 9 months or older. It's processed, so the milk protein is more tolerable than that in whole milk. Before this age, babies have a limited amount of lactase enzyme (which helps digest lactose).
  • Routine, routine, routine. Feed your baby in the same place every meal, every day, while she is seated in a secured seat. Don't let your baby eat on the run -- it not only poses a choking hazard, but it also sets the stage for eating battles when she grows into toddlerhood.

Reviewed on October 04, 2011

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