Feeding your baby in the first year
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 12 months.
- Formula should be cow milk-based.
- Homemade formulas made from canned, evaporated, whole milk (cow or goat) are not recommended as a breast milk substitute.
- Homemade formulas can contain harmful germs and lack important nutrients that can make your baby sick.
- Rice or other plant-based beverages, even when fortified, are not appropriate as a breastmilk substitute as they are nutritionally incomplete for infants. There is no evidence that soy-based formula will prevent your child from developing an allergy.
- Soy-based infant formulas should only be used as an alternative to cow milk-based formula if your baby has galactosemia (a rare disorder that will affect how your baby’s body processes simple sugar) or if your baby cannot consume dairy-based products for cultural or religious reasons.
- 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 solid foods. Along with other foods, you can continue to breastfeed as long as it is comfortable for you and your baby, even well into the toddler years.
You’ll know baby is ready to start other foods when they:
- Can sit up without support, and have good control of their neck muscles.
- Hold food in their mouth without pushing it out on their tongue right away.
- Show interest in food when others are eating.
- Open their mouth when they see food coming their way.
- Can let you know they don’t want food by leaning back or turning their head away.
Remember that all babies are different. Some babies may be ready a few weeks before or just after 6 months. However, waiting 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, chickpeas) 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.
- There is no special order to introduce new foods to your baby. Delaying introducing a food beyond 6 months of age to try to prevent an allergy is not recommended. This applies even to children who are considered at high risk of developing an allergy (who have a parent or sibling with an allergic condition). Talk to your doctor if you are unsure.
- When introducing foods that are common food allergens, try offering no more than one per day. Wait two days before you introduce another. This makes it easier to identify a food that may have caused a reaction.
Healthy foods that your whole family is eating are the best choice for your baby. Make sure they are plain, with no added salt, sugar or spices. You can use commercial baby foods, but read the label to ensure there is no added salt or sugar.
||6 to 9 months
||9 to 12 months
||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.
||Offer puréed cooked vegetables—yellow, green or orange.
||Move to soft, mashed cooked vegetables.
||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
Between 6 and 9 months, you can offer dairy foods like yogurt (3.25% fat content or higher), cottage cheese or grated hard cheese.
Introduce whole cow’s milk (3.25%) at around 12 months.
After 12 months of age, your baby should not take more than 16-24 ounces (500-720 mL) of milk products per day. Otherwise, they will fill up and won’t want to eat solid foods. Too much milk can also 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.
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 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.
- Offer water to babies and young children between meals and snacks if they are thirsty. If you choose to offer juice, be sure it is only 100% fruit juice (with no added sugar). Limit juice to 125 mL (4 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 a year old, as there is a risk of infant botulism (food poisoning).
- 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 preparing your baby’s food, and wash your baby’s hands before they eat.
- 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 them while they are eating.
- Make sure your baby 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 nut 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
|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
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee
- Public Education Advisory Committee
Last Updated: August 2018