Ask any parent what he or she remembers most about a child’s first year and you’re likely to hear quite a bit about sleep schedules. However, a baby’s eating schedule is just as important as his or her sleep.
While feeding a baby seems like it should be simple, for some new parents it can be nerve-wracking and lead to plenty of questions, such as: “Should I breastfeed or bottle feed?” “How much should my baby eat?” “When should I start baby food?” “What should my baby’s first foods be?”
To help navigate first-year feeding, consider these tips from the experts at KinderCare.
Let babies eat as much as they need, when they need it.
Be prepared to feed your baby soon after he or she shows signs of hunger, like rooting; sucking on hands, toes, clothes or toys; or reaching for food. Let your baby tell you when he or she is full – like turning away, falling asleep or losing interest in eating. This helps your baby learn to eat when hungry and stop when full, even if it means not eating everything you offer.
Choose a feeding style that meets you and your baby’s needs.
Whether you breastfeed or use a bottle, the important thing is your baby is fed. If you breastfeed, it’s a good idea to express some milk now and again so your baby will take a bottle if someone else needs to feed him or her.
Understand when it’s time to start baby food.
While most babies are introduced to solid foods around 6 months of age, it depends on their individual development. Generally, if your baby can sit up on his or her own, has good neck and head control and shows interest – like reaching for food during mealtimes – it may be appropriate to try solid food.
Focus on exploration.
It’s important to provide your baby with a variety of foods free from added sugars, sodium and artificial ingredients, and let him or her explore rather than focusing on how much is eaten.
“Focus on introducing veggies, proteins, grains and fruit – in that order,” said Courtney Hines, KinderCare’s nutritionist. “Babies are naturally inclined to prefer sweet things so save fruit for last so your baby is more inclined to try other flavors.”
Make the transition gradual and fun.
Hines recommends gradually exposing babies to a wide variety of whole, unprocessed foods with varying flavors and textures, and talking with your baby about the taste, feel and look of the foods he or she is trying. Starting with soft foods like mashed potatoes, avocadoes, sweet potatoes, cooked rice and bananas can give you an idea of what your child can handle.
It’s easy to focus on baby food stages, but transitioning to solid foods will take place over time, making it important to continue offering your baby a bottle before mealtimes, in addition to solid food. Once your baby reaches his or her first birthday, talk with your family doctor about transitioning from breast milk or formula to unflavored, whole-fat milk.
It’s important to remember that every baby develops at his or her own pace. Talk with your child’s doctor about the right pace for your baby, and find more tips to navigate your child’s major milestones at kindercare.com.