Feeding your baby from birth until six months of age, your baby will get all of her nutritional needs from breast milk or infant formula.
From six months onwards, in addition to milk feeds, your baby will start on solid foods.
How long does a baby need breast milk?
Breast milk or formula is the most important part of your baby’s diet for the first 12 months of life. Breast milk or formula provides the bulk of nutritional value until your baby reaches her first birthday.
If you want to continue to provide your breastfed baby with breast milk past her first birthday, that’s great! You and your baby can continue breastfeeding for as long as you choose to.
If you have been feeding your baby infant formula, there’s no need to continue past 12 months. You can move on to regular cow’s milk or another milk of your choice.
When to start feeding your baby solid foods
Starting solids is an exciting time for parents; however, you might have come across conflicting information about when you should introduce solid foods to your baby.
The current recommendation from the World Health Organization is that nutritionally adequate and safe complementary solid foods should be introduced to infants at six months of age.
It’s also important that your baby is showing signs of readiness for solid food. As well as age, your baby’s development is an equally important factor in the introduction of solids.
Your baby is showing signs of readiness for starting solid foods if she is around six months of age and:
- Is able to sit upright comfortably in a high chair
- Has good head and neck control
- Has lost the automatic tongue thrust reflex
- Shows an interest in food.
There are two different ways you can offer your baby solid foods.
You can offer your baby pureed, mashed or very soft foods, on a spoon or you can offer soft finger foods that your baby can pick up with her hands and eat. The latter is called baby led weaning.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Baby Led Weaning | What Is It?
What to feed your baby
There’s no need to buy specially packaged ‘baby food’ or infant cereal when your baby starts eating solid food. You can easily make your own baby food (such as pureed fruit) or offer your baby soft foods such as very ripe banana slices or unsweetened yogurt.
Try to offer your baby as many options, from different food groups, as you can think of. Raw vegetables are not recommended for infants younger than 12 months as they are a choking hazard.
Cooked vegetables, such as mashed sweet potatoes or sweet potato wedges are good finger food options for a baby starting solids.
There is no need to avoid food groups in case of a food allergy. Delaying the introduction of new foods into your child’s diet to avoid potential allergens has not been proved to reduce the risk of a baby developing an allergy to that food.
In the early days of starting solid foods, it’s more about experimenting with new food (different tastes and textures) rather than eating three meals a day. Because breast milk or formula is still the most important part of a baby’s diet, start to introduce foods after a milk feed.
Did you know?
Your baby is exposed to different flavors through your breast milk. Your diet can influence the food preferences your baby develops.
When can babies drink water?
Until six months of age, breast milk or formula contain all the fluids your baby needs. Giving water to a breastfed baby under six months can be dangerous or fatal.
In some cases, a very small amount of boiled and cooled water is recommended for babies who have constipation associated with infant formula.
In any case, it is very important to check with your baby’s doctor before offering extra water.
From six months of age, you can start to offer your baby small amounts of water with solid foods; however, this is not absolutely necessary.
Babies will still get all the fluid they need from breast milk or formula; some parents, though, like to use this time to introduce a cup for their baby to drink from.
When can babies have cow’s milk?
Cow’s milk should not be given to babies under 12 months of age. A small amount of cow’s milk, mixed with solid foods from 6 months onwards, is acceptable but the main source of nutrition for babies under 12 months is still breast milk or formula.
For breastfed babies, the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond.
For formula fed babies, follow-on infant formula is not necessary after 12 months. From 12 months onwards, you can offer your baby regular milk instead of infant formula. Whole milk offers more nutrition than skim milk and should be offered to infants up to 24 months.
When to stop night feedings
Most babies wake to feed overnight. Night time feeds are important for your baby’s growth. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, its perfectly normal for your baby to breastfeed to sleep. If feeding your baby at night works for you both, there’s nothing you need to change.
You might have heard that you should stop breastfeeding your baby overnight due to the risk of tooth decay. There are several contributing factors to tooth decay in early childhood.
Fruit juice or other foods or drinks with added sugar pose a much higher risk of early tooth decay than breast milk or formula.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Can Breastfeeding Cause Tooth Decay? 5 Things To Know.
Trying to night wean before 6 months might mean that your baby does not get enough calories in a 24 hour period. For parents of older babies who want to stop feeding overnight, it’s best to wait until your baby is around 12 months or older; this will make the transition easier.