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 experts in the CHOC Clinical Nutrition and Lactation team have 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

Breast milk is the ideal source of nutrition for your baby. It contains essential nutrients that are beneficial to your baby’s digestive system. While there are numerous formula choices in the market, human milk contains enzymes and smaller proteins that are the gentlest on your baby’s tummy.

Mom breastfeeding her child

Bottle Feeding

If you decide not to breastfeed or are unable to breastfeed, you can still offer pumped breastmilk through various alternative methods such as spoon feeding, syringe feeding and bottle feeding.

There are also commercial iron-fortified infant formulas if breast milk is not an option for you. FDA approved infant formulas have the right amount of protein, calories, fat, vitamins and minerals for your baby’s growth. Although most major formula companies add blends of immune factors and nutrients to best match the properties of breast milk, it does not contain all the benefits that are naturally present in human milk.

Older infants who take enough iron-fortified infant formula usually do not need vitamin and mineral supplements. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends vitamin D supplements for babies who are exclusively breastfed or taking breast milk, or those taking less than 32 oz of formula a day.

There are many types of infant formula available. Refer to your pediatrician when choosing the best type of formula for your baby.

Introducing Solid Foods

The AAP encourages exclusive breastfeeding or the use of breast milk until 6 months of age, with continued use for as long as mutually desired by mom and babies.

At around 6 months of age, you may start introducing solid foods to your baby. This is a milestone development for your baby to learn about tastes and textures, and so that you can add more nutrients to their diet, especially iron and zinc, which are limited in breast milk.

At around 4-6 months of age, babies show cues of readiness to start solid foods. Each baby’s maturity and readiness is unique. Remember, babies do not need teeth to begin eating by mouth. They use their tongue and gums to mash soft foods.

Signs that your baby is ready for solid foods include:

  • Holding their head steady
  • Sitting up with support
  • Bringing fingers and toys to mouth
  • No longer thrusting their tongue out of the mouth; can close lips around a spoon and swallow its contents.

How to start feeding solid foods

  • 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. Wait at least 2 to 4 days before introducing another new food to see if your baby has any reaction to each food. If your baby develops a rash or experience vomiting/diarrhea, stop offering the food and consult your baby’s physician.
  • 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.
  • Using fruits and vegetables will provide healthy nutrition and offer a variety of color, tastes and textures.
  • White meat, such as chicken and turkey, are good sources of iron and zinc.
  • It is natural that your baby refuses new foods. It may take up to 10 to 20 tries before your baby accepts the food, so try again! However, refrain from force feeding your baby when he/she refuses, as this may trigger problem eating behavior in the future.
  • Potentially allergenic foods, such as eggs and peanut butter, do not need to be avoided when starting solid foods. They can be added to your baby’s diet as soon as your baby’s feeding skills allow. Research shows introducing potential allergens early in your baby’s solid feeding journey may reduce the likelihood of allergies developing.
  • When preparing homemade foods for your baby, you should always be mindful of cleanliness and food preparation and storage safety. Make sure that the food you feed your child is the right texture for their development, and always keep an eye on them while they eat. To prevent chocking, feed your child foods that can be easily dissolved with saliva or that require minimal chewing.

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.