Nutrition for Infants

Choosing how to feed your baby is an important decision that has lifelong effects for your baby and for you. We know it can be overwhelming, so the CHOC Clinical Nutrition & Lactation team has compiled resources on all things infant nutrition.

Learn more below about breastfeeding, bottle-feeding and when to start your baby on solid foods.

Breastfeeding: The Ideal Choice for Newborns

Nature designed human milk especially for human babies, and it has several advantages over any substitute. Your milk contains just the right balance of nutrients, and it contains them in a form most easily used by the human baby’s immature body systems. Because it was developed for your human baby, your milk is also the gentlest on your baby’s systems.

Mom breastfeeding her child


If you decide not to breastfeed, or are unable to breastfeed, commercial iron-fortified formulas can give your baby the nutrition they need. Infant formulas have the right amounts of protein, calories, fat, vitamins and minerals for growth. However, formula does not contain the immune factors that are in breast milk. The immune factors in breast milk help prevent infections.

Infants who take enough iron-fortified infant formula usually do not need vitamin and mineral supplements. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin D supplementation for all babies drinking formula until they are drinking at least 32 ounces a day. Fluoride supplements are recommended for babies whose primary water supply is not fluoridated. Check with your baby’s health care provider about fluoride supplements.

Types of Infant Formula

Cow’s milk-based formula. Most infants should be able to tolerate a standard cow’s milk formula. Cow’s milk formulas are modeled after breast milk. These formulas have lactose as the carbohydrate (sugar) source. They are available in ready-to-feed cans, liquid concentrate and powder. Regular cow’s milk is not an appropriate source of nutrition for a baby.

Soy-based formulas. Soy-based infant formulas are used if an infant cannot tolerate lactose. Soy formulas do not contain lactose as the sugar source. In some cases, infants who are allergic to cow’s milk formula can also be allergic to soy-based formulas. Consult your baby’s health care provider before changing formulas. Vegetarian parents may prefer soy-based formulas.

Hydrolyzed formulas. Hydrolyzed formulas are easier to digest. They may be used in babies at risk for allergies. They are more expensive than regular formulas. Consult your baby’s health care provider or a CHOC allergy specialist before using these formulas.

Low iron formulas. These formulas are not recommended.

Helpful Hints for Feeding Your Baby

  • Breast milk is best for your baby and is beneficial even if you only nurse for a short amount of time or part-time.
  • Wait until breastfeeding is well established (usually by 3 to 4 weeks of age) before introducing a bottle, unless instructed otherwise by your child’s health care provider.
  • Working mothers can use a breast pump on break time and refrigerate or freeze the milk for later use as a bottle-feeding. Breast milk can be refrigerated for up to five days after pumping. Frozen breast milk is good for three to six months in a standard freezer and up to 12 months in a deep freezer. Fathers and other family members can be involved in feeding time if breast milk is offered from a bottle periodically.
  • Offer cow’s milk-based formula with iron as first choice of formula if not breastfeeding.
  • Keep your baby on breast milk or baby formula until he or she is 1 year old. After this time, you may switch to whole milk. Children under 2 years should not drink skim or low-fat milk.
  • It is important to follow the formula preparation directions exactly as directed on the packaging. Using too much water can result in poor weight gain. It’s also important to discuss your water supply with your child’s health care provider. In some areas, water must be boiled first, or bottled water should be used.
  • Bottles should never be propped up.
  • Babies should never be put to sleep with a bottle. This can cause cavities to develop.
  • All babies, whether breast or bottle fed, should be offered a feeding whenever they show signs of hunger.

When to Introduce Solid Foods

organic vegetables

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages exclusive breastfeeding or the use of bottled breast milk until 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding as long as mutually desired to 1+ year of age. At around 6 months, your baby will need to start solid foods to learn new tastes and textures, and to add nutrients to his or her diet, especially iron and zinc, which are limited in breast milk.

Signs that your baby is ready to begin eating foods by mouth are when your baby:

  • Holds his or her head steady
  • Sits up with support
  • Brings fingers and toys to mouth
  • No longer thrusts his or her tongue out of the mouth but can close lips around a spoon and swallow its contents.

These developmental steps and feeding cues will occur around 4-6 months of age. Babies do not need teeth to begin eating by mouth. They use their tongue and gums. Remember, every baby’s maturity and readiness for solids is individual.

What to Feed

  • Select the time of day when your baby is most alert and showing eagerness to eat to offer solids.
  • When starting solids, begin with single ingredient foods with a soft, smooth texture. It is best to wait 2-4 days before introducing another new food. Waiting will give you a chance to see if your baby has any reaction to the newest food. If your baby has a rash or experiences vomiting/diarrhea, stop offering the food and consult with your baby’s doctor as needed.
  • Although there is no evidence to suggest a certain order of solid foods, iron-fortified cereals (rice, oatmeal and barley) prepared with breast milk or formula are typical of first foods. Meats, chicken and turkey should be considered earlier than later as they are good sources of iron and zinc.
  • Using fruits and vegetables will provide healthy nutrition and offer a variety of color, tastes and textures.
  • If your baby refuses a new food, try again. It may take up to 10-15 times before your baby may like the food. Learning to like a variety of foods forms the basis of healthy eating habits.
  • Potentially allergenic foods, such as eggs and peanut butter, should not be restricted beyond 4 to 6 months of age. They can be added to your baby’s diet when your baby’s feeding skills allow.
  • When preparing homemade foods for your baby, you should always be mindful of cleanliness and safety. Keep the food texture smooth in the beginning and avoid any pieces your baby may choke on.

As Your Baby Grows

  • Once your baby is eating smooth foods, begin to offer mashed, then finely chopped, and then foods that can be picked up by his or her little hands for self-feeding.
  • Introduce cup feedings of water, breast milk or formula and be patient as your baby practices this new feeding skill. By one year of age, your baby should be taking all of his or her drinks from a cup or breastfeeding.
  • Fruit juice, soda or sweetened beverages should not be given before age one.

Careful Considerations

  • Cereals and other solid foods should always be fed from a spoon and not added to a bottle. Your baby needs to learn to eat his or her foods from a spoon and progress to self-feeding.
  • Due to risk of illness or choking, do not give these foods to your child during his or her first year of life:
    —Honey or foods made from honey (there is a risk of a serious food borne illness called botulism)
    —Foods in the shape of a circle or hard objects such as hot dogs, peanuts, grapes, raisins, raw vegetables, popcorn and candy
    —Other types of milk (cow’s milk, rice milk, soy milk, almond milk or goat’s milk) are not recommended during the first 12 months of age. These milks are not designed for babies and do not meet nutritional needs.
  • Always clean your baby’s spoon, plate, bottle/cup and hands before and after eating to keep your baby healthy and germ-free.
  • Include your baby at the family table as your baby will learn to eat by watching you.
  • Follow your baby’s cues of hunger (opens mouth/grabs for spoon) and fullness (turning head away or closing mouth). Let your baby decide whether to eat and how much he or she is willing to eat.
  • Early recognition of your baby’s temperament and appetite at mealtimes can avoid unnecessary struggles over eating and set the stage for a healthy relationship with food.

If you have any questions or concerns about your baby’s nutrition or feeding skills, be sure to talk to your baby’s doctor. The above guidelines are based on current recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Infant Nutrition Articles

Frozen Breast Milk Safety 101
Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive on frozen breast milk safety.

How to Tell If Your Baby is Getting Enough Milk from Breastfeeding
A registered nurse and certified lactation consultant offers 5 key indicators a baby is getting enough milk directly from breastfeeding.

What is colic?
Sometimes colicky babies cry uncontrollably because of a discomfort in digestion.