Pediatrician’s Guide to Infant Feeding: Navigating Breastfeeding, Formula, and Solid Foods

An infant child being fed baby formula by his mother.

Properly feeding your infant from the very start is essential for their development. However, doing so is not always a straightforward process, especially during their first year. If you’re dealing with difficulties feeding your newborn right now or if you’re planning on having a child and want to know what to expect, a pediatrician can offer some help.

The following is a concise guide to infant feeding, bolstered by information provided by pediatricians around the country:

Your Child’s First Six Months

There are some common beliefs that state you should be starting your child on solid foods before they’re six months old, but these are myths. In fact, doing so could put your child at risk of diarrhea and other digestive issues.

Though you should always consult with a pediatrician before deciding what to feed your child, the only thing they will need in their first six months is either breast milk or formula. Either of these will provide your baby with the nutrients they require to grow.

As for the choice between the two, the former is the best option, as it is easier for a baby to digest. But more importantly, breastfeeding can go a long way toward protecting babies against some short and long-term illnesses.

Through breast milk, the mother shares her antibodies with her baby, helping them develop a strong immune system. In fact, babies who’ve been breastfed tend to have lower risks of developing asthma, type 1 diabetes, and falling victim to sudden infant death syndrome.

The process of breastfeeding is even beneficial for the mother, as well, since it can help return the uterus to its normal size faster.

Of course, even with these benefits in mind, breastfeeding isn’t always an option. Many women don’t have a reliable milk supply because of health conditions, previous surgeries, or a variety of other factors. Some babies even have trouble breastfeeding because of genetic metabolic conditions. Whatever the reason, if breastfeeding isn’t an option, formula is the next best thing.

Because babies can only consume a little bit at a time at first, they generally need to be fed often. In the first two months, you’ll likely have to breastfeed your baby every two to three hours. However, if you’re using formula, you’ll have fewer feedings (between six and ten times in a 24-hour period).

As the baby passes the two-month threshold, they’ll start drinking larger quantities of milk at a time. Of course, every baby is different, so you’ll want to check with your pediatrician to see how often you should be feeding your child.

Additionally, it is crucial to learn and recognize the signs that mean your baby is hungry. These can include things like:

  • Fussing
  • Putting hands in their mouth
  • Smacking or licking their lips
  • Moving their head around, looking for your breast
  • Clenching their hands
  • Crying

Crying, however, is a late cue. If your baby is crying, it means they’ve been hungry for a bit, and it can take some time to calm them down enough for them to eat.

Alongside these signs of hunger, you must also understand the signs that tell you your baby is full. If you see them relax their hands, turn their head away, or close their mouth, it means they’ve had enough.

Beyond the First Six Months

Around the time your baby turns six months old, you can start introducing solid foods into their diet. Some signs that can tell you it may be time to introduce solid foods are when your baby can sit up with good neck and head control and when they start becoming interested in solid foods. They may also begin to move items toward their mouth.

You can continue to breastfeed even if your child is eating solid food, but it’s not necessary. By this point, they’ll need more nutrients and energy than milk or formula alone can provide. Cow’s milk doesn’t have the nutrients your baby needs, either, so don’t give it to them before they reach their first birthday. You also don’t want to give them juice before then as well.

Additionally, because the iron storage that babies have from breastfeeding can start to diminish by their six-month milestone, it can be a good option to introduce iron-rich foods early on. There are lots of iron-fortified baby cereals available, but you can also try turkey, beef, and chicken.

As you begin introducing foods, do so one at a time, and don’t go for mixtures. Introducing one new food item at a time can also help you monitor your baby for any food allergies or tolerance issues. Wait a couple of days and then give them another new food to try. If you see that they experience a rash, diarrhea, or vomiting, they could have an intolerance or allergy.

Previously, the protocol was to introduce common allergens like peanuts, fish, and eggs later on, but this has now been reversed. It’s better to offer these foods earlier on to help prevent the development of allergies.

As for foods to avoid during this time, stay away from those that don’t offer any nutritional value to your baby or that pose choking hazards. Some of these include the following:

  • Hot dogs
  • Processed foods
  • Candy
  • Popcorn
  • Whole nuts or seeds
  • Whole grapes
  • Anything with too much sugar or salt (whether you choose to use canned baby food or make baby food yourself)
  • Use a spoon to feed your child, not an infant feeder. You want them to get used to the spoon.

Start with about a teaspoon of new food at first and then increase that to a tablespoon. Some people choose to begin with meat and cereals, while others prefer to go with fruits and vegetables first. The order doesn’t make too much of a difference, but if you’re not sure, ask your baby’s pediatrician. Just make sure to wash, peel, and remove all seeds and pits from the fruits and vegetables you introduce.

Get Help at Newport Children’s Medical Group

If you’re feeling unsure about feeding your baby and want to know more about the process, or if you need more information about other health conditions that your child may have, reach out to a pediatrician at Newport Children’s Medical Group. We have teams of specialists in various areas of pediatrics, including pulmonary health. Contact our team today to schedule a consultation.