When you find out you’re becoming parents, you might find yourself bombarded with well-intentioned advice about every topic imaginable from cloth versus disposable diapers, bottle versus breastfeeding, and sleep cycles.
If you’re conducting your own research online, you could easily get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of resources and conflicting information available, especially when it comes to the subject of feeding your baby and how nutrition affects their early development.
However, this article cuts through the noise and seeks out the most reliable, authoritative sources to provide you with all the necessary answers you’re looking for about the baby food stages you’ll face as a newly expanding family.
Once you absorb the joy and wonder, smells, feel, cuddles, and kisses with your new arrival, eventually baby is going to get hungry. The newborn phase can be tricky as you try to figure out whether to feed your infant formula or breastfeed. Every journey is different even for mothers who have other children that they breastfed and may not be able to with the new one or vice versa.
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports breastfeeding your infant, if possible, during their first six months. Breast milk provides your child with a completely balanced “meal” and the nutrients they need to support their immune system to protect your child from sickness and infections.
Breastfeeding significantly reduces your baby’s risk of ear infections, pneumonia, and might even cut their chances of suffering from allergies.
Typically, an infant will need to feed every two to four hours for a total of up to 12 times within 24 hours if they only drink breastmilk. Keep in mind that your baby’s stomach is tiny, and it probably won’t take too much to fill. Babies typically know how much they need to eat and will stop feeding when full.
When your exclusively breastfed baby is about four months old, you might want to check with your pediatrician to see if they recommend an iron supplement to avoid any deficiency issues that are associated with infants that only consume breast milk.
Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in brain development, and infants can usually get the necessary amounts through breastfeeding if the mother’s diet contains B12 sources.
However, if the mother is strictly vegan or vegetarian, anemic, or has GI disorders, it’s possible her diet may not include adequate amounts of B12 to pass through the breast milk to the infant, and many need to take supplements.
Also, a baby that is solely consuming breast milk may not receive enough vitamin D even if the mother is taking supplements, so the infant will probably require supplements as early as a few days after they are born.
Infants are born with very little vitamin K and breast milk does not contain sufficient amounts of the crucial nutrient. All infants, breastfed and formula fed, should receive a vitamin K shot soon after they are born so that they can adequately form blood clots and avoid potentially fatal issues like vitamin K deficiency bleeding, also known as VKDB.
If you choose to bottle-feed your baby with formula, it is essential to select one fortified with iron, and luckily, most formulas available in the United States have this vital nutrient. All infant formulas, from the generic to the name brand ones, have to meet the FDA’s specified nutrient levels, so you don’t have to worry about buying the most expensive kind.
Many formulas also contain DHA and ARA, which are fatty acids that people can get from consuming fish oils and breast milk, respectively, so manufacturers want to ensure that formula-fed babies don’t miss out on some vital nutrients that breastfed infants are receiving through their mother’s milk.
You may go through a trial-and-error phase with formulas if you try one that your baby doesn’t seem to like or that causes digestive issues.
Generally, for the first couple of days, you can give your newborn one to two ounces about every three hours or more often if the infant seems to be hungry. After the first couple of months, your feeding schedule could space out to every four hours.
Prepare to be amazed by all the things you’ll watch your baby learn and do. At a month old, most infants can:
- Move their arms (but not in a controlled fashion)
- Hear well and even recognize their parents’ voices
- Pay attention to an object held up to a foot away
Fast forward to three months, and many babies can:
- Visually track moving objects
- Lift their head and chest when placed on tummy
- Smile when they hear their parents’ voices
By four months old, most babies:
- Can reach for toys
- Can hold their head up without support
- Push themselves up onto their elbows while lying on their stomach
Six Months to One-Year-Old
Once your baby is six months old, you should be able to start supplementing breast milk and formula feedings with “solid” foods. You might be ready to start feeding your child solids when they are as young as four months old, depending on their rate of development.
If your infant can control their head movements and sit in a high chair, then there is no danger to introducing solid food.
Of course, without any teeth, the term solid means food other than in liquid form. At this phase in your baby’s life, you can feed them pureed vegetables and fruits, or infant cereal combined with formula or breast milk.
You should introduce your baby to only one new food every few days so that you can readily identify an ingredient that may cause any possible allergic reactions, especially if there’s any history of food allergies in the family tree.
Just when you thought you figured out how much and how often to feed your infant, new adjustments are necessary to supplement their breast milk and formula feedings with solids.
When you’re starting to introduce complementary foods, one to two tablespoons of food might suffice. Once you get into the swing of things, plan to feed your baby about three meals a day with two to three snacks mixed in between feedings.
From four to six months old, you can introduce them to pureed or strained foods with a thin consistency that is easy for them to swallow.
Once the baby is between six and eight months, you can step it up from pureed to cooked and mashed foods. From eight months to a year old, infants can eat ground and finely chopped foods and will need around 750 to 900 calories a day, about half of which they should still get from formula or breastmilk.
Some bite-sized soft foods you can offer your child as you supplement with solids are:
- Scrambled eggs
- Well-cooked and mashed or chopped pasta, peas, potatoes
- Whole grain crackers or bread
Try to make sure your baby’s diet includes fruits, vegetables, organic cereal, eggs, fish, and their breast milk or formula. Introducing your child to a variety of foods early on could help ensure they are less picky eaters once toddlerhood rolls around. You can also begin to give your child four to six ounces of water a day once your infant is six months old.
Between ages six to eight months, you can increase the serving size from a few spoonfuls up to half a cup of food, and if your infant’s development is on track, you’ll get signs from them that they are done eating like when they turn their head away.
Baby-Led Weaning and Self-Feeding
One particular trend growing in popularity among parents is baby-led weaning. Some families choose to use this method of feeding once the baby is about eight to 12 months old and can grasp items between their thumb and forefinger to pick up food and feed themselves.
With baby-led weaning, you would skip buying jars of baby food, and your child eats real food that you diced into small pieces and leave on their high chair tray.
You might cringe at the mess that will ensue, but your child is learning crucial development steps like increasing their hand-eye coordination and dexterity. It also teaches your child how to recognize when they are full, and they will stop eating versus spoon-fed babies who may overeat if parents insist they finish the entire serving.
You can begin your child’s self-feeding with soft foods like cereal puffs, cooked vegetables, eggs, and ripe fruits. Make it easy for your child to pick up the foods by slicing into thin strips or creating round shapes. You should probably keep bibs on hand and put a garbage bag under the high chair to prepare for the mess.
Some good menu options to encourage baby-lead weaning are:
- Peaches, pears, strawberries (cut into easy to grab sizes)
- Chopped up meatballs, sliced chicken or steak
- Toast cut into sticks and topped with hummus, butter, or peanut butter
- Steamed broccoli florets
Some studies show that if you don’t monitor portion sizes, babies who-self feed may overeat, but generally, children who participated in baby-led weaning appear to enjoy eating and fuss less about food choices.
Between six and twelve months old, your child should be growing by leaps and bounds. Most babies triple their weight by age one, and they learn constantly.
After six months, many infants can:
- Sit up
- Respond to their name
- Roll onto their stomach from their back and vice versa
At 12 months, most children can:
- Grasp items between their thumb and forefinger
- Pull themselves up to a standing position
- Hold a spoon
If your child is not accomplishing these milestones, you might want to report that to your pediatrician at your baby’s next checkup, but every infant is different, and there might not be a reason to worry. However, sometimes children may experience delayed development if they:
- Were born prematurely
- Were underweight at birth
- Have a medical condition like Down’s syndrome
After your baby’s first birthday, you might notice a decrease in appetite and an independent streak about what they will or won’t eat. You might think that because your child is bigger and more active, they should eat more substantial meals, but actually, they’re not growing as fast as they did during that first year and might not need to eat as much as you think.
A one-year-old child should consume around 1,000 calories a day, and ideally, divided between three meals and a few snacks. However, toddlers are unpredictable, so you might find it’s tough to get them to stick to your plans.
By a year old, you can switch your child from formula or breast milk to fortified cow’s milk, and they should be able to drink from a cup and start to leave the bottle behind.
Avoid foods with a lot of butter, salt, sugar, or spices and make sure you’re still chopping their food up into small pieces to avoid any choking hazards. Believe it or not, your one-year-old should have a good amount of healthy fats and cholesterol in their diets because they are vital for their development and growth.
If you can, you should get your child to eat salmon or other oily fish so that they can get their essential omega-3 fats which are vital for their brain’s growth and good for their heart.
At a year old your child can have:
- Diced strawberries
- Oat cereal
- Tomato juice
- Fruit smoothies
- Meat or veggie tacos (soft shell)
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Rice and beans
Since children like to copy what they see, if you incorporate the same food into your diet, you’ll probably have a greater success rate to get your little one to eat the food that they see you enjoying.
However, don’t be surprised if you find that the food they like one day, they don’t like the next and don’t give up if your baby doesn’t like something new the first time they try it. It can take up to fifteen attempts to introduce a new menu item before your child will accept it.
Once your child is a year-old, their developmental milestones go beyond the physical to include cognitive thinking and social skills.
At this age, your one-year-old should be able to:
- Find hidden objects
- Walk unassisted
- Imitate or copy others
Emotionally, you might notice that your child wants independence, but also may cling to you, and many people refer to this phase as “first adolescence” because it is a bit of a rollercoaster. Being away from your toddler could help them gain more independence even if they fuss at first. Try not to sneak away to avoid the drama but let her know when you leave that you’re coming back.
Your one-year-old’s language development skills could make a huge leap during the period before they turn two. Many toddlers have a vocabulary of about 50 words by the time their second birthday rolls around even if you’re the only one who understands what they’re saying. Having patience and responding in a supportive manner can go a long way to improve pronunciation issues.
Socially, your little one might parallel play around other children, but won’t really play with them just yet. A one-year-old’s take of the world is very egocentric, and they are more interested in themselves even if they are aware of others.
If your two-year-old has become a picky eater, do your best to ensure that they eat a little from the four food groups every day like:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Cheese, low-fat milk
- Poultry, eggs, fish, meat
- Rice, potatoes, cereal
Your toddler might resist and stick to eating only their favorite foods but try not to obsess over the amount they eat and discuss with your pediatrician if they recommend a vitamin supplement to make up for any nutrients they could be missing.
If your child is skimping on meals, use snack time as an opportunity to beef up their healthy eating habits by giving them:
- Fresh or dried fruits
- Vegetables like cooked, diced carrots or avocado slices
- Whole wheat bread or crackers
- Dairy products like yogurt or cheese cubes
- Peanut butter, hummus, cut up hard-boiled eggs
Raw vegetables and some whole fruits should be cooked and cut into bite sizes to minimize choking risks and avoid salty and sweet and nutritionally void processed foods such as pizzas, chips, and candy.
By age two, your toddler should be able to drink from a cup using one hand, feed themselves finger foods, and use a spoon.
Most two-year-olds can:
- Kick a ball
- Say two-word sentences
- Follow two-part instructions
- Start pretending
- Climb up and down from furniture unassisted
Remember that all children develop at different rates, but if you are concerned that your child is not reaching developmental milestones, consult with your pediatrician to identify any potential issues early.
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