Feeding your baby in the first year

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Feeding your baby in the first year

Highlights
  • For the first 6 months of life, breastfed babies will get what they need from their mother’s milk.
  • By about 6 months, most babies are ready for other foods.
  • Waiting too long after 6 months to introduce other foods increases your baby’s risk of iron deficiency.
  • Follow your baby's cues when you start to introduce solids. 

Feeding your baby in the first year of life is an exciting adventure for parents and babies alike. It’s about development, nutrition, curiosity, sharing and learning. Attachment also grows as you go about your daily routine with your baby.

You can help your baby develop a lifetime of healthy eating habits with the right start.

The first 6 months

For the first 6 months of life, breastfed babies will get what they need from their mother’s milk.

  • Breast milk has the right amount and quality of nutrients to suit your baby’s first food needs.
  • It is easiest on her digestive system, so there’s less chance of constipation or diarrhea.
  • Breast milk also contains antibodies and other immune factors that help your baby prevent and fight off illness.
  • Babies who are exclusively breastfed should get a daily supplement of vitamin D, which is available as drops.

If breastfeeding is not an option, use a store-bought iron-fortified infant formula for the first 9 to 12 months. The formula should be cow’s milk-based. There is no evidence that soy-based formula will prevent your child from developing an allergy. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure which formula is best for your child.

Introducing solid foods

At about 6 months, most babies are ready for other foods. Along with other foods, you can continue to breastfeed until your baby is 2 years and beyond.

You’ll know baby is ready to start other foods when he:

  • Seems hungry earlier than usual.
  • Can sit up without support, and has good control of his neck muscles.
  • Holds food in his mouth without pushing it out on his tongue right away.
  • Shows interest in food when others are eating.
  • Opens his mouth when he sees food coming his way.
  • Can let you know he doesn’t want food by leaning back or turning his head away.

Remember that all babies are different. Some babies may be ready a few weeks before or just after 6 months. However, waiting too long after 6 months to introduce other foods increases your baby’s risk of iron deficiency.

What foods should we start introducing our baby to first?

There are many ways to introduce solid food. The first foods usually vary from culture to culture and from family to family.

  • Start with foods that contain iron, which babies need for many different aspects of their development. Meat, poultry, cooked egg yolk and well-cooked legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas) are good sources of iron. Store-bought iron-fortified infant cereals such as rice or barley are also common first foods because they are good sources of iron.
  • Introduce new foods one at a time, waiting about 2 to 3 days before trying another. That way, if your baby has a reaction, you’ll have an idea which food might have caused it.
  • There is no special order to introduce new foods to your baby. In general, it isn’t recommended that you delay any food (such as peanuts, fish or eggs) beyond 6 months of age as a way to prevent your child from developing allergies. This applies even if your child is at high risk for developing an allergy (a child is considered high risk if a parent or sibling has an allergic condition). Talk to your doctor if you are unsure. 

Healthy foods that your family eats are good to start with as long as they are plain, with no added salt, sugar or spices. You can also use commercial baby foods, as long as you check the label to ensure there is no added salt or sugar.

  6 to 9 months 9 to 12 months
Grain products Offer up to 30 to 60 mL (2 to 4 tbsp.) of iron-fortified infant cereal, twice a day. Then try other grain products such as small pieces of dry toast. Offer other plain cereals, whole grain bread, rice and pasta.
Vegetables Offer puréed cooked vegetables—yellow, green or orange. Move to soft, mashed cooked vegetables.
Fruit Offer puréed cooked fruits, very ripe mashed fruits (such as bananas). Try soft fresh fruits, peeled, seeded and diced or canned fruit, packed in water or juice (not syrup).
Meat and alternatives Offer puréed cooked meat, fish, chicken, tofu, mashed beans, eggs. Mince or dice these foods into very small pieces.
Milk and milk products  

At 9 months, you can offer dairy foods like yogurt (3.25% or higher), cottage cheese or grated hard cheese.

Introduce whole cow’s milk (3.25%).

After 12 months of age, your baby should not take more than 720 mL (24 oz.) of milk products per day. Too much milk can lead to iron deficiency anemia.

How much should I feed my baby?

Follow your baby’s cues for how much to feed. Start by offering a teaspoon or two. Don’t rush. Some babies need to try a food many times before accepting it. If she’s not hungry, she’ll turn her head and close her mouth. If she’s hungry, she’ll get excited and open up.

Never trick or coax her to eat more by playing games or offering sweetened foods. Babies who are allowed to follow their own hunger cues are much less likely to overeat later in life.

Try foods with different tastes and textures to help your baby learn how to handle foods in her mouth.

Your baby’s development How often to feed Type of food
Sits with support 2-3 times a day* Puréed, mashed food and semi-solid foods
Sits on own 2-3 times a day* Family foods, small amounts of soft mashed foods
without lumps
Crawls 3-4 times a day* Family foods, ground or soft mashed foods with tiny soft lumps; crunchy foods that dissolve, such as whole grain crackers
Walks 3 meals and 2 snacks a day* Coarsely chopped foods; foods with more texture;
toddler foods; bite-sized pieces of food; finger foods
* Plus breast milk, formula, or whole cow’s milk, depending on your child’s age

Water and juice

Babies who are exclusively breastfed don’t need extra water. When your baby begins to eat other foods, you can start to offer water occasionally.

  • Babies and children don’t need to drink juice. Too much juice, especially apple juice, can cause diarrhea and can fill up small stomachs, decreasing your baby’s appetite for nutritious foods. Too much juice can also cause early childhood tooth decay.
  • If you do offer juice, be sure it is only 100% fruit juice. Always offer it in a cup, and as part of a meal or snack. Offer water to babies and young children between meals and snacks if they are thirsty. Limit juice to 125 to 175 mL (4 to 6 oz.) per day.

Are there any foods my baby shouldn’t eat?

  • Babies shouldn’t be offered sugary drinks or foods, such as candies, soda/pop or energy drinks.
  • Don’t give honey to babies under 1 year old, as there is a risk of infant botulism (food poisoning).
  • There is no reason to delay the introduction of common food allergens (such as eggs, fish or nuts) beyond 6 months of age. Once you do, it’s important to continue to offer these foods to your child regularly.
  • If you have concerns, please speak to your health care provider.

Is there anything else I should know about feeding my baby?

  • Always wash your hands before breastfeeding and your baby’s hands before he eats.
  • Wipe your baby’s gums with a soft, damp cloth twice a day for good oral health.

How can I prevent choking?

Young children don’t know how to chew food into tiny pieces. And they haven’t learned how to bring a piece of food back up when it gets caught going down. Foods most likely to cause choking are small, round or cylindrical in shape, like hot dogs, whole grapes, carrot slices, seeds and hard candy.

To protect your baby:

  • Always supervise your children while they are eating.
  • Make sure your child is sitting down to eat.
  • Grate raw vegetables such as carrots to make them easier to chew.
  • Cook hard fruits and vegetables to soften them.
  • Slice round foods such as hot dogs or grapes lengthwise.
  • Remove pits from fruits.
  • Chop or scrape stringy meat and add broth to moisten it.
  • Spread sticky foods like fruit butters thinly on a cracker or toast rather than bread.
  • Don’t feed your baby whole nuts, popcorn, gummy candies, hard candy, or fish with bones.

Developmental milestones related to feeding

Age Physical milestones Social milestones
Birth to 4 months
  • opens mouth wide when nipple touches lips
  • sucks and swallows
  • recognizes source of milk by about 10 weeks
4 to 6 months
  • sucking strength increases
  • brings fingers to mouth
  • socializes during feeding
6 to 9 months
  • drinks from a cup held by an adult
  • eats soft food from a spoon
  • begins rotary chewing (in a circular motion)
  • enjoys holding food and finger-feeding
  • loves to be included at the table for meals
  • begins to show likes and dislikes for certain foods
9 to 12 months
  • tries to use a spoon
  • starts to finger feed with a more advanced grasp
  • feeds at regular times
  • is aware of what others do
  • imitates others
12 to 18 months
  • grasps and releases food with fingers
  • holds spoon but use is awkward
  • turns spoon in mouth
  • uses a cup but may dribble
  • wants food that others are eating
  • loves performing
  • understands simple questions and requests
18 to 24 months
  • appetite decreases
  • likes eating with hands
  • likes trying different textures
  • is easily distracted
  • prefers certain foods
  • ritual becomes important

 



Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last updated: December 2013