This is an exciting time when your infant will become a baby and start showing his independence. Your heart will melt when he opens his mouth for the first spoon of cereal and you will feel like a proud parent when he picks up his first Cheerio. Teaching your baby to eat is an adventure, but I will cover all the basics for you in this simple Baby Feeding guide from 6 to 12 months.
Breast milk and/or formula continue to be the basis of your baby’s diet during the 2nd half of his first year. Read more about the benefits of breast milk and formula in Feeding your baby: 0-6 months. Now the feedings become less frequent but the amount per feeding increases as his stomach gets bigger and he burns more energy, thus requiring more calories. Each baby is different and you should watch if yours needs more or less, but here are approximate guidelines for the amount needed at this age:
6-7 months: 5 feedings in 24 hours. If giving formula, he will need 7 oz. per bottle.
8-9 months: 4 feedings in 24 hours. If giving formula, he will need 8 oz. per bottle.
10-12 months: 3 feedings in 24 hours. 8 oz. of formula.
Babies are very smart creatures and they know how much they need, so watch for clues. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you breastfeed for at least a year. Most commercial formulas go until 12 months as well. However, if your baby starts cruising and walking before 12 months, you can slowly start introducing whole milk. The fat content in whole milk is necessary for the little brain to grow and develop. Ideally, though, hold off on cow’s milk until he turns one.
Ready for solid food?
Once your baby hits a few milestones, you will know he is ready for solid food. It can be several or all of the below clues he demonstrates:
- Holds his head up
- Can sit in a highchair
- Doubles his birth weight
- Pays attention to what you eat and shows interest in food
- Does not push food out with his tongue
- Is still hungry after breast milk or formula
- Starts getting his first teeth. Note teeth are not necessary for the baby to chew, as he will chew with his gums at first, but as the foods become more solid, teeth will certainly come handy. The first tooth will appear around 6-8 months, usually on the bottom and then will be matched by a few on the top. By 3 years, your baby will have all of his 20 baby teeth. Read more about First Teeth.
Note, that many youngsters will complete these milestones earlier than 6 months (some as early as 4 months), which means you can start solid food sooner. However, to avoid unnecessary tummy aches, you may want to wait until 6 months. Prepare for some resistance – little ones love routines and this is a new endeavor.
However, it’s not the amount consumed that matters at first (most of the calories and nutrition will still come from breast milk or formula), rather it’s the eating skills (chewing, swallowing, grasping), discovering new flavors and being social that matters most.
Best first food
Be prepared for the budding independent to push the food away. It may take up to 3-10 tries before your baby will like any food, even cereal. So if you fail, try and try again. To avoid and spot allergic reactions, make sure to separate each new food with a 3-day interval.
Cereal is the ideal first food for the baby. Look for iron-fortified single-grain cereal in the baby aisle. Rice cereal is usually a great first choice, but make sure it is plain rice (no fruit added). You will need to mix a little breast milk or formula with it. First cereal should have a very runny consistency, but as your baby gets used to it, make it thicker. Once rice goes in favor, start introducing other cereals, such as barley, oatmeal, wheat and mixed cereals. Each baby will usually show preference for one kind of cereal but it is a good idea to still feed him others, to develop his palate.
How much to feed? Start with 1 teaspoon of cereal to 4 teaspoons breast milk or formula 1 time a day. Then, increase it to 1 tablespoon of cereal to 3 tablespoons of breast milk of formula. Slowly work up the consistency to 1:2, the amount to 10 tablespoons (small bowl) and the frequency to 3 feedings (breakfast, lunch, dinner).
When to feed? It’s best to try any new food (in this case cereal) in the middle of the day (not at breakfast and not before bed) – either at lunch time or in the afternoon. First, feed solids once a day and then expand to other times. Watch for clues from your baby – offer more solids when he seems hungrier.
It will still be a little while until your happy eater will take his first big bite. But once your baby gets a hang of the cereal, you can start giving him mashed and pureed foods, beginning with fruits and vegetables. Start with 1 teaspoon each of fruit and vegetable, then increase to ½ cup each (fruit and vegetable) 3 times a day.
Vegetables you can puree (or buy ready-made): peas, cooked carrots, squash, sweet potato, potato, avocado, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower
Fruits you can puree (or buy ready-made): banana, pears, applesauce, peaches, mango
Doctors recommend giving your baby vegetables before you introduce fruit. You will quickly discover how much your little one loves sweets (and fruit is naturally sweet), so it is good to get them to like vegetables before they get a taste of sweet fruit. Doctors also recommend starting with yellow veggies & carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, since they are easier to digest and rank higher on nutrition. You can then move to green veggies – peas, green beans. Make sure to give each new fruit or vegetable one at a time and at a good interval (3 days ideally), to watch for any allergic reactions. If you have enough time between new foods you will be more confident about the culprit if a reaction occurs.
It’s a good idea to avoid citrus fruit and vegetables (e.g. oranges, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers) until your baby turns one, since these frequently cause allergic reactions.
Once your baby starts picking up objects with his thumb and forefinger (this is called pincer grasp) and move things from one hand to another, once he tries to put everything in his mouth, you know he is ready for the next food step. This usually happens around 9 months, but sometimes a month sooner or later, as each baby is different. This new development means you can start adding new foods to the already established base of breast milk or formula, cereal and mashed fruits and veggies. You can start on the following:
- Yogurt. Yo-Baby Organic yogurt has many varieties and some even come with extra DHA so good for your baby’s brain. It comes in great flavors, such as banana, peach, vanilla, berry and more. Your baby will love this yogurt well beyond he is one and it will be especially helpful cold, right out of the fridge, to soothe his teething gums. Whatever brand of yogurt you choose, make sure it is made with whole milk and has full fat (no 2% or low fat) – the fat is very important to your baby’s brain development.
You can feed yogurt once a day (best at dinner time).
- Cheeses – either soft pasteurized cheese or cottage cheese. Every other day offer your baby a ½ oz of cheese.
- Protein. Start with small amounts of protein – less than ½ a cup a day (best at lunch time or split in 2 ¼ cups for lunch and dinner). Great first proteins are: pureed chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, tofu, beans. Combination foods (casseroles or mixed meat and veggie puree) are also OK – Gerber makes many excellent varieties. The larger ingredient in ready-made combination foods is listed first – so if a jar says “beef and carrots”, you know there’s more protein than veggies.
- Finger foods – Cheerios or other O-shaped cereal, small pieces (1/2-inch) of banana, pasta, toast or bagel. Offer a bit of these at each meal, so your baby gets used to picking up and eating his food himself.
- Juice. You can offer it at lunch with other foods. A good first juice is a clear juice – apple, pear or white grape. Juice boxes make it easy for baby to learn to drink through a straw (vs. a bottle) which is an important milestone, and they are easy to bring along with you. Many restaurants will offer a juice box with kids’ meals. As with fruit, avoid citrus juices until your baby is one.
Once your baby has more teeth and starts chewing the food better and not pushing it out with his tongue, you know he is ready for more solids. Another indicator is him using a spoon, more as a toy though, but any interest in feeding utensils is a positive. Your baby will be likely 10 months when he starts exhibiting these signs. What does it mean to you? It means you can offer him less mashed and more solid food. You can and should still offer him the milk, cereal, yogurt, fruits and veggies, protein and finger foods, but start moving away from mashed to larger solid pieces:
- Add less breast milk or formula to the cereal for thicker consistency
- Cut fruit and veggies (make sure all are soft and/or cooked) into small bite-size cubes (1/2-inch at the most)
- Instead of mashing, offer ground proteins and try egg yolk (no egg whites until he is one, for fear of allergies)
Foods to avoid
These foods may either cause allergies or are choking hazards. Avoid them until your baby turns 12 months.
Egg whites, citrus fruits, berries, honey, cow’s milk, chocolate, nuts.
Where you eat
The most important skill you need when feeding your baby is patience. Prepare to spend some time at each meal. Comfortable environment is crucial. It’s ideal to have meals at the same place (such as the kitchen) with no distractions. Invest in a good sturdy high chair with padded seat and back, sturdy straps, easy clean-up and flexible tray. Toys are a plus too. Your baby should always be restrained when seating in a highchair and you should be within an arm’s reach.
Other useful items when feeding a baby are a set of bibs and plastic spoons. Plastic spoons are preferred over metal, as they are gentler on baby’s developing teeth and gums. You may have to try different bibs, spoons and toys. Stay patient and persistent. Baby’s tastes change and you can help them develop.