Infant Nutrition from Birth to 12 Months: What You Need to Know
Breastmilk or formula is a nutritionally complete food for the first six months of your infant’s life. As a parent, this really makes for easy meal planning. All of your baby’s nutrients are fully covered in one perfect food! That’s especially helpful during the chaotic early days of having a new baby in the house.
It’s also why the idea of starting to add solid foods to the mix can feel a little daunting to some new parents. Though your baby should continue to have most of their nutritional needs met by breastmilk or formula through their entire first year, at the six-month mark it’s time to start gradually introducing solid foods to their diet. Consequently, you may begin feeling stressed about the types of food to give your infant and whether they’ll actually consume it, especially if they seem to have a more discriminating palate. When it comes to infant nutrition, the most important thing is to offer your baby a variety of foods in a fun, comfortable mealtime setting.
How Much Babies Should Eat
Appetites will run the gamut: some babies eat frequently, some eat a lot one day and less the next. Some are more adventurous, others more choosy. Sometimes you’ll introduce a new food on a day they’re just not in the mood for it (which can be frustrating as a parent).
Focusing on a particular number of servings or forcing your child to eat a certain amount of each food group will drive you bananas and set you up for food battles later on. Instead, take a broader view. Evaluate your baby’s appetite and food consumption over the course of several days, not just at one particular meal. Aim for a healthy mix of different foods instead of trying to tally individual servings. Continue taking your baby to regular pediatric checkups – as long as they’re growing at a healthy rate, they’re likely receiving all the nutrients they require.
Nutrition for a 0- to 6-Month-Old Baby
Keep in mind that all infants eat differently. Some prefer to have lots of little snacks, while other babies enjoy eating more at one feeding session with longer intervals in between. In general, babies tend to drink more and increase the time between feedings as they get older and their bellies can hold more milk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the general guidelines for feeding infants younger than six months are as follows:
- Newborns: every 2 to 3 hours, or 8 to 12 times every 24 hours. Infants may only take in half an ounce per feeding for the first day or two of life, but after that will typically consume 1 to 2 ounces at each feeding. This amount increases to 2 to 3 ounces by 2 weeks of age.
- 2 months: about 4 to 5 ounces per feeding every 3 to 4 hours
- 4 months: about 4 to 6 ounces per feeding
- 6 months: up to 8 ounces every 4 to 5 hours
Most babies will increase the amount they drink by an average of 1 ounce per month before leveling off at about 7 to 8 ounces per feeding. The AAP, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO) all recommend starting solid foods at about six months of age.
Nutrition for a 7- to 12-Month-Old Baby
Between 7 months and 1 year, babies are still getting most of their nutrition from breast milk and/or formula, but they’ll also be trying solids. Here’s a look at how your infant might eat from seven months to one year of age. Keep in mind that diets and frequency vary from baby to baby.
- 7 months: about 24 to 36 ounces of breast milk and/or formula per day (four to six nursing sessions, if you're breastfeeding), plus 4 to 9 tablespoons of cereal, fruit and vegetables daily; 1 to 6 tablespoons of meat/proteins
- 9 months: about 24 to 30 ounces of breast milk and/or formula per day (three to five nursing sessions, if you're breastfeeding), plus 1/4 to 1/2 cup each of grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat/proteins
- 11 months: maybe 16 to 24 ounces a day of breast milk and/or formula per day (three to five nursing sessions, if you're breastfeeding), though their diet will include more solids: 1/4 to 1/2 cup each of grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat/proteins
- 12 months: up to 24 ounces per day of breast milk and/or formula (three to five nursing sessions, if you're breastfeeding), though many start weaning around now and begin drinking cow’s milk. They'll also eat 1/4 to 1/2 cup each of grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and meat/proteins.
The OXO Tot Fork and Spoon are perfect for when tots are ready to feed themselves. Generous handles have soft, non-slip grips and are easy to hold while scooping yogurt or piercing pasta.
What Foods to Introduce First
The CDC advises that most children do not need to be introduced to new foods in a particular order. The introduction of solids should begin around six months of age. By seven or eight months, your child should be able to eat a variety of foods from different food groups. This includes infant cereals, meat or other proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, yogurts, and cheeses.
How to Introduce Baby to New Foods
Allow your baby to try one single-ingredient food at a time in the beginning. This allows you to observe whether your child has any issues with that food, such as food allergies. The CDC recommends waiting three to five days between each new food. Introduce potentially allergenic foods at the same time as other foods. This includes cow’s milk products, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soy, and sesame. If your child has severe eczema and/or egg allergy, consult your child’s pediatrician about when and how to safely introduce foods with peanuts.
Make mealtime messes manageable with the OXO Tot Roll Up Bib. The soft, food-safe pocket is wide enough to catch virtually any stray pieces of food that miss your baby's mouth.
Important Nutrients in a Baby’s Diet
Your baby needs a variety of nutrients to grow and thrive. Be sure to offer these foods prepared in a developmentally-appropriate way and keep an eye out for signs of a potential allergic reaction.
Your baby will get all the calcium they need from breast milk or formula for the first year. Whole milk cheese, whole milk yogurt, ricotta, and cheddar are fun additions for many babies and have the added benefit of protein.
Again, most of this will come from breastmilk or formula, but you can begin trying meat, chicken, eggs, fish, and tofu.
Little ones love these, including whole-grain bread and cereals, whole grain bite-sized pasta, lentils, beans, peas, quinoa, or brown rice.
Formula-fed babies will get this, but breastfed babies need an additional source. Around four months, ask your baby’s doctor whether they need a liquid iron supplement until you can add iron-rich foods to their diet. After that, iron can come from iron-fortified cereals, whole grain products, cooked dried legumes, meat, and egg yolks.
Vitamins A, B, C, and E
The easiest way to incorporate these vitamins is to feed your little one a rainbow-colored variety of fruits and veggies.
As babies shift to solid foods, they spend less time consuming formula or breast milk. Therefore, it’s important to ensure their cholesterol and fat intake don’t decrease substantially. Give your baby full-fat dairy products (made from whole milk), a bit of avocado, or cook with olive or canola oil.
During the first six months, nearly all of a baby’s fluids come from a bottle or breast. After the introduction of solid foods, small amounts (up to 4 to 8 ounces per day) of plain, fluoridated drinking water can be given to infants with the introduction of complementary foods. Plain, fluoridated drinking water intake can slowly be increased after age one to meet hydration and fluoride needs. Cow’s milk, fortified soy beverages, fruit juice, toddler milk and toddler drinks, caffeinated beverages, and sugar-sweetened beverages are not recommended until your child is older than 12 months.
The Soft Spout Sippy Cup has a unique, almond-shaped spout that opens easily as soon as your little one’s lips touch it and is specially designed to make it an easy transition from bottles or breastfeeding.
What Foods to Avoid
While encouraging intake from each food group, some dietary components should be limited. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, babies should avoid:
- high sodium foods
- unpasteurized foods and beverages
- honey (until one year of age)
The Bottom Line
Remember, when it comes to meeting your infant’s nutritional needs, don’t focus too much on serving sizes or the amount of food the baby is eating. Instead, offer a variety of healthy foods and an easygoing, comfortable mealtime environment. Enjoy watching your little one discover the world of healthy food and allow healthy eating habits to develop.
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