Babies feeding guide – the first year of life
Nutrition in the first year of life is a fundamental element for a baby’s growth and development. It has long term effects, influencing childhood growth years and adult life as well. This chapter, which can serve as babies feeding guide in the first year of life, is a fundamental element for a baby’s growth and development.
I believe that proper nutrition and good habits in the first year of life are fundamental element for a baby’s growth and development, also having long term effects, influencing childhood growth years and adult life as well.
Remember, these are general rules for healthy babies – babies with chronic or special medical conditions (such as preterm, metabolic syndromes, etc.) needs special and personalized care.
Babies feeding guide for the first year of life
It is customary to divide infants’ nutrition in the first year of life to a few time periods:
• Birth until 4 months: exclusive feeding with breast milk or formula.
• 4-6 months: continuing with breast milk or formula, but starting food tasting.
• 6-9 months: continuing with breast milk or formula but relaying on solid food for a few meals a day.
• 9-12 months: continuing breast milk or formula but increasing the amount of solid food in the infant’s daily menu.
An important note on the begining of this chapter – many formal guidelines recommend that solid foods should be introduced at about 6 months. However, many infants show readiness before 6 months (but never before 4 months). So, depends on your baby’s readiness, starting the tasting experience somewhere after 4 months is perfect. This is the perfect time frame for babies to experience flavors, textures and very importantly, potentially allergenic foods.
Again, besides giving the infant the basic metabolic needs for the first year of his life, correct and balanced nutrition as well as good eating habits and eating hygiene, has an impact on his life as a child and as an adult.
Baby feeding from birth until 4 months:
Babies from birth until 4 months of age do not need any other feeding except for breast milk or formula. The advantages of breast feeding are detailed in a specific post (read more here). However, I want to talk about the general rules for good baby nutrition, which provides all his needs in this period.
So how much does a baby need to eat at the age of 0-4 months?
There’s a basic rule of 150 (from 140 and up to 200) milliliter for every kilogram of body weight. Meaning – if a baby weighs about 4 kg, he needs to eat 600 milliliters every day. Dividing this amount by 7 meals a day (in average) – about 85 milliliters per meal.
This is a good basic rule to follow, especially up until 3-4 months, but there are some limitations:
Breast fed babies – it’s hard to quantify the amount per meal.
Pumped breast milk or formula fed babies – do not necessarily eat as written in the text books, and do not always follow that basic rule. Some eat more (or less) in each meal, some eat a different amount in each meal.
So, for me, the answer to the question – how much food does a baby need is as much as he wants, while monitoring his behavior and weight percentile.
In breast fed babies, unless in exceptional cases, breast feeding should be done every 3 hours (give or take). When a baby is calm, gains weigh and develop properly, you can start spacing meals a bit more, with longer gaps between them (even if the baby is very young). Same time gaps between meals need to be kept with formula fed baby as well.
In cases of bottle feeding, it’s important that the baby leaves a bit of formula/milk in the bottle at the end of the meal. If you notice that the bottle remains empty at the end of a few consecutive meals, consider preparing a larger amount the next time.
This doesn’t mean that the absolute amount of food the baby consumes throughout the day will increase – sometimes after a large meal it will take a bit longer for the baby to develop hunger and to demand his next bottle.
And about addition of water to his diet – there is no need for water for a baby, for up to 4 to 6 months of age. Every time the baby wants to eat/drink – just give him breast milk or formula.
Baby feeding from 4-6 months:
These ages were what got me into the whole “baby nutrition” niche.
Let’s start with the fact that breast feeding or formula are the main source for nutrition for babies at this age.
What about solid food? As I noted earlier in this post- solid foods should be introduced at about 6 months and not before 4 months.
However, from my personal experience, I have seen many successes in starting solid foods at about 4 months of age. If the family and the baby show the desire and the developmental readiness (both medically and behaviorally), then starting with tasting after 4 months may bring a lot of joy and wonderful eating habits for the long term. Starting introducing solids at this age has some advantages:
• Medical advantage – In particular, the allergic aspect. Many studies have proven the advantages of introducing antigens (proteins) at this age in reducing the prevalence of allergies. This is also true for fruits and vegetables, and foods with a high allergic potential (see ahead).
• Developmental advantage – I am not sure this is officially proven, but I see it with my own eyes every week. Babies who start eating solids at this age, learn about right eating habits and are more mature comparing to babies their age, only fed by breastmilk or formula. This advantage is kept further along the road, since a 7 months old baby who started early on solids, is able to enjoy a full meal with his family (again – good eating habits), unlike a 7 months old baby who did not started tasting solids at 4 months.
WhIch baby can start solid food?
According to many official guidelines, babies older than 4 months who fulfil a few developmental criteria:
• The baby can hold his head steady while sitting – True, a good recommendation. Babies with hypotonia (low muscle tone) need to “strengthen” before starting with solids. However, most babies at the age of 4 months have an adequate muscular tone.
• The baby needs to synchronize his eyes hands and mouth, in order to see hold and deliver the food to his mouth – In my opinion, a baby does not really hold and serves himself food at this age, so this rule is not a must.
• The baby can swallow solids – Again, in my opinion, a very general recommendation. At this age a baby does not really eat solids, but more mashed or ground vegetables (the word “solids” makes me think of steak, not of mashed carrots). I would say that a baby who can start eating solids must have a synchronization of chowing and swallowing. Some babies are just not ready to start eating solids. These baby just play with the food in their mouth, does not know what to do with it, and spit it out. The mature baby is the one who starts chowing and swallowing, and desire for more when he is done.
In my opinion, it is best to watch how the baby eats, so you can learn if these developmental milestones are achieved and if he is ready for solids tasting.
What is the purpose in nutrition and eating at 4-6 months of age?
It’s important to understand the goal, so we can adjust our expectations for this age. The goal is to achieve a full meal of solids (1 or 2 each day) after the age of 6 months.
This means that all we do from the age of 4 months is to introduce solids in growing amounts, textures, colors and flavors, so we can change one bottle a day for solids (at least one, two would be great). We can expect for the baby to start eating and tasting gradually, enjoy the experience and learn to eat properly.
How to start solid food?
First vegetables, and later on – fruits. It is customary to start from one vegetable for a few days and then to move on to a different vegetable or to combine with another one. This way we can figure what types of foods the baby does not like, and to accustom him to different textures and flavors. After achieving these basics of tasting, it is more than wanted to incorporate foods with a high allergenic potential (cooked eggs, peanuts, sesame and fish). Also, you can start introducing porridge (oatmeal or semolina). A more practical and detailed information can be found here.
As for water addition – it is acceptable for water addition to be given to babies after substituting a significant amount of their meals for solids. There is no “magic number” for what is considered significant. Its starts to be more relevant at summer time and at around 6 months of age.
Baby feeding from 6-9 months:
If your baby started solids when he was around 4 months old, and now eats at least one full solid meal a day, then he will start increasing the amounts and the variety at this age span. Those who start tasting at 6 months, will start trying different foods slowly, and will base a good solids meal during these months.
Recommended foods for this age (besides vegetables and fruits) are turkey, beef, chicken, fish, legumes and eggs.
You can start incorporating a small amount of milk and dairy products in sauces, quiches, soft pancakes and soups. I suggest leaving the cheese, yogurts and sweetened puddings for around 9 months.
At this age, and better before 7 months, it is wanted to introduce foods containing wheat flour, including semolina or oatmeal porridge, or even cooked pasta.
Regarding formula or breast milk – in this age it is still recommended to continue with breast feeding and supplementing with formula when needed.
It is recommended to encourage meals with all family members, including the baby, so he can learn good eating habits, and be exposed to different foods and personal example on food hygiene. Depending on his developmental stage, you can start letting the baby feed himself.
What about water addition? at this age babies have already substitute at least one meal for a solid food, so there is room for additional water, as needed. Do not give the baby any tea or fruit juice.
Baby feeding from 9 -12 months:
Continuing with increasing food amounts, and introducing different variety of foods. You should work toward substituting 3 meals a day with solids food. You can add dairy products, including puddings (better unsweetened ones), cheese and yogurt.
At this age it is recommended to eat as a family, all family members sitting at one table together. A lot of babies can feed themselves at this age, and you should encourage that. Don’t be afraid of letting the baby experience foods, not only with his mouth, but with his own hands and curiosity. Babies can hold a spoon or use his clean hand, and can drink water from a special cup.
Food you should not give your baby in the first year of life:
Cow milk: a low iron source, so it is better to wait until after the age of one year. Do not be confused, dairy products can be started earlier, as written before, but milk and related products (such as chocolate milk for example), should not be given before 12 months of age. Babies should not be “on a diet” and don’t need “low fat” foods.
Honey: do not give under 1 year, due to risk of infection with botulism.
Different foods that are a choking hazard: do not give until the age of 5 years. Hard fruits and vegetables, grapes not cut length wise (which is a rule for every round or long foods you serve- always cut length wise), hard candy, nuts, fish with bones.
So I hope this chapter will be of help in the first year of life. Remember, what we are doing in this year will have effect of your child also as an adult.