Feeding Guidelines for Infants

What to feed your baby.


Wouldn’t it be great if babies came with feeding instructions? Well, to some extent they do.

Studies have shown that infants are born with a preference for sweet tastes, followed soon after by a preference for salt. And when it comes to knowing how much to eat, babies are born with that ability, too. It’s called self-regulation, meaning babies have internal cues that tell them when they’re hungry and when they’re full.

But infants certainly can’t prepare their own foods — that’s where you come in. It’s a parent’s responsibility to provide what baby eats (nutritious foods without added sugar or salt) and to decide when and where she eats (regular meals and snacks in a safe, loving environment with child-friendly spoons and cups).

When these responsibilities are misunderstood or not taken seriously, problems can occur. For example, continually encouraging an infant to finish a jar of baby food when she’s had enough teaches her to ignore internal cues that tell her when she’s full and may lead to overeating. Adding seasonings such as salt or sugar may prevent her from learning how to enjoy the natural flavor of foods. And diets that contain too much salt may lead to future health problems, such as high blood pressure.

Feeding Guidelines

The following guidelines about when and what to feed your baby throughout the first year are provided by Maureen Murtaugh, Ph.D., R.D., past chairwoman of the American Dietetic Association’s Perinatal Nutrition Dietetic practice group.

4 months Throughout the first year of life, breast milk is the most nutritious option for your baby; in fact, this is the only food she needs for the first several months. There are medical reasons for delaying the introduction of solid foods: Doing so gives your baby’s gastrointestinal tract time to mature and may also help prevent allergies from developing. When you do introduce solid foods, you can continue breastfeeding, particularly at night. If you cannot — or if you choose not to — breastfeed, ask your pediatrician to recommend an iron-fortified infant formula.

4–6 months Your baby may be completely satisfied by breastfeeding alone. But if she still seems hungry after nursing and is able to sit up on her own, move food around in her mouth to help herself swallow, and turn her head to signal when she’s had enough to eat, you might want to begin feeding her an infant cereal. Since most babies’ iron stores are depleted by this time, choose one that is iron-fortified. Also make sure that it contains only one ingredient, such as rice, barley or oatmeal.

To help you pinpoint any food intolerances or allergies that your baby may have, always introduce one cereal at a time and wait three days before offering another type. Also, offer only a few spoonfuls at first, gradually increasing the serving size.

6–8 months As your baby acquires teeth and is better able to chew, you may add strained, mashed or finely chopped soft vegetables and fruits, such as sweet potatoes, zucchini and bananas, to her diet.

Since babies tend to prefer sweeter foods, you may increase the chance that your baby will accept vegetables if you introduce them before fruits. Always spoon a small amount of baby food into a bowl and discard any uneaten portions, rather than feeding directly from the jar.

Some babies are also ready to drink from a cup now. Offer a small, child-sized cup with a lid and fill it with breast milk, iron-fortified infant formula, or a small amount of vitamin C-fortified 100-percent fruit juice, such as apple, white grape or pear juice. To keep their babies from getting too much sugar — albeit the type that occurs naturally in fruit — some parents prefer to dilute juice with water.

8–12 months At this age your baby probably will want to start feeding herself. Now is the perfect time to serve finger foods — small, bite-sized pieces of foods that are easy for her to pick up and eat, such as cooked peas, chopped peaches and unsweetened cereal. Now is also the time to add protein-rich foods, such as yogurt, finely cut or chopped meat, poultry or fish, and egg yolks. To help prevent allergies, hold off on egg whites until after your child’s first birthday. Honey, which may contain botulism spores, also should not be fed to children for the first year.

After your child is 12 months old, you can give her “whole” cow’s milk. (She needs the fat from whole milk to help her brain grow and develop properly.) Lower-fat varieties are usually not introduced until after a child’s second birthday.

When it comes to feeding, trust your baby’s instincts and be confident in your ability to nourish her properly. Remember that by helping your baby learn how to enjoy eating a variety of nutritious foods early on, you will help her develop healthful eating habits to last a lifetime.