Feeding: Know the Basics

Every day, baby is growing so quickly! Their growth is powered by good nutrition and strong feeding abilities.

Feeding is more than just eating and drinking—it helps baby develop the muscles used to chew, swallow, and digest their food. Baby will go through many stages of feeding development, but all of them are important to their growth!

What is feeding?

Feeding looks different at every age for babies and young children, but it is the intake of nutrition that helps us grow, develop and thrive. Most babies begin life by breast or bottle feeding, and slowly build up to solid foods.

What do stages of feeding look like?

There are various feeding milestones baby will meet throughout the first 18 months. These stages help baby slowly build up to solid foods. So while they begin by consuming breastmilk or formula, baby typically graduates to purees around 4-6 months, and small solids shortly after.

Learn more about what feeding looks like at 0-3 months, 4-6 months, 7-9 months, 10-12 months, and older.

How often should baby feed?

That really depends on the age, but it’s always best to try and maintain a regular feeding schedule. At a very young age, baby feeds often, in smaller quantities. Newborns typically feed every 1-3 hours (8-12 times per day), consuming about 2-3 ounces of breastmilk or formula per feeding. As baby grows, they typically can go longer between feedings.

How do you know when your baby is ready for the next stage of feeding?

By following their feeding milestones (see below) and consulting with their healthcare provider. Sensory and motor development are important parts in feeding, and help baby to reach the next stage. It’s important baby develops the proper muscles needed for chewing, swallowing, and digesting before they can begin thicker liquids and small solids. Read more about how motor development impacts feeding.

Feeding Milestones

Watch below to learn more about feeding throughout the 18 months!

0-3 Months

At this age, your infant is only consuming breastmilk or formula—they are not ready for thicker liquids or solids. Newborns often communicate hunger by showing signs of hunger.

It’s also important to note at this age, baby is not ready for any thicker liquids or solid foods. They also should not drink cow’s milk until they are 1 year old.

  • Latches onto nipple or bottle
  • Tongue moves forward and back to suck
  • Drinks 2 to 6 oz. of liquid per feeding, 6x per day
  • Sucks and swallows well during feeding

  • Breast milk and/or formula

  • A newborn’s digestive tract and control of muscles of the mouth are still developing, so they should not be eating any solid foods
  • Babies often explore items by putting them in their mouth. Be aware of choking hazards.

4-6 Months

At this age, baby may be able to start purees and cereals, as long as:

  • Baby can sit up in a high chair
  • Baby has good head control
  • A healthcare provider has said baby is ready

How do I transition my baby to solid foods?

  • Begin and end baby’s meal with breast milk or formula while they are transitioning to solid foods.
  • Alternating between the bottle and spoon can help baby connect the idea of spoon-feeding with the comfort of nursing.

What are some good foods to start with as purees?

Purees are best when made with fruits and vegetables that can be cooked, cooled and blended into a smooth, thin liquid. Some popular first foods to puree are:

  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Squash
  • Green beans

Keep in mind formula or breast milk will continue to be a key part of their nutrition until baby is one year old. However, baby should not have any cow’s milk until they are 12 months old.

  • Shows interest in food
  • Opens mouth as spoon approaches
  • Moves pureed food from front of mouth to back
  • Begins to eat infant cereals and pureed foods

  • Breast milk and/or formula
  • Infant cereal
  • Smooth, pureed food (single ingredient only), like carrots, sweet potato, squash, apples, pears

  • Homemade purees should have a thick liquid consistency
  • Make batches of homemade purees and freeze in ice cube trays. Thaw purees before feeding to your baby.
  • Introduce baby to one new food at a time (every 3 days)
  • When transitioning to solids, try starting and ending the meal with milk/formula
  • Having a stronger core and more control over their neck and head movement is important for introducing solids

7-9 Months

As baby becomes more familiar with solids, they can begin transitioning to table foods. This typically happens around 8-9 months.

What types of food can I give baby once they have transitioned to table food?

Give baby a variety of foods that are either mashed or cut into bite-sized pieces. Different textures and shapes should be provided. A few suggestions for food to give to baby include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Well-cooked pasta
  • Soft fruits

Avoid giving baby heavily salted, buttered, or sweetened foods.

Is there anything I should not do when starting to give baby solid foods?

Do not feed baby solids from a bottle unless their healthcare provider suggests otherwise. This can drastically increase the amount of food baby eats at each feeding and cause gagging. Learning how to sit up, to use utensils, and rest in between bites are good feeding habits to develop.

Watch for signs baby is ready for solid foods and tips to make transitioning to solids easier.

Give baby soft, mashed, or well cooked food that is easy to swallow. Present food in small pieces to prevent choking. Baby should try one new food every three days to help detect potential food allergies.

  • In a highchair, holds and drinks from bottle
  • Begins to eat thicker pureed and mashed table foods
  • Enjoys chew toys that can massage sore and swollen gums during teething
  • Stays full longer after eating
  • Starts to look and reach for objects, such as food that is nearby
  • Shows strong reaction to new smells and tastes

  • Breast milk and/or formula
  • Pureed foods
  • Yogurt
  • Soft, mashed foods like baked potatoes or sweet potatoes
  • Soft, bite-sized foods like:
    – Mashed, hardboiled egg yolk
    – Small pieces of ripe banana
    – Small pieces of pasteurized cheese
    – Soft breads
    – Soft, cooked carrots

  • When first introducing thicker purees, mix with a thin puree
  • Vary thinner purees and thicker purees
  • Majority of baby’s nutrition should still come from breast milk or formula
  • Allow your child to play with food and get messy
  • Don’t feed baby foods with added salt and preservatives
  • Alternate giving baby a straw to drink from and helping baby with an open cup
  • Try alternating feeding baby with spoon and letting them try to feed themself

10-12 Months

By 12 months, baby can begin drinking from an open cup. Just remember, spills happen! Alternate between giving your little one open cups and using straws; this will help develop different mouth muscles.

  • Finger feeds self
  • Eating an increasing variety of food
  • Begins to use an open cup
  • Ready to try soft-cooked vegetables, soft fruits, and finger foods
  • Might be ready to start self-feeding with utensils
  • Enjoys a greater variety of smells and tastes

  • Breast milk and/or formula
  • Couscous, rice, & quinoa
  • Additional finger foods:
    – Scrambled egg yolk
    – Beans/legumes (lentils, black beans, pinto beans)
    – Ground meat
    – Sliced deli meat cut into small pieces
    – Strips of cheese
    – Bread, toast, crackers & muffins
    – Cooked pasta

  • Baby should be eating 3 meals per day plus several healthy snacks
  • Use chop option on food processor to serve baby the same meal you are eating at an appropriate consistency or mash with fork
  • Serve snacks at consistent times so baby is hungry for meals
  • Eat together at the table during mealtimes

13-18 Months

At this age, your toddler is just getting better every day with feeding!

They should be using a cup regularly, and getting used to holding and drinking from a cup.

They should also be eating an increasing variety of coarsely chopped table foods.

  • Can use open cup independently
  • Should be able to eat most foods by 1 year and participate in family mealtime
  • Increases variety of chopped table foods

  • With pediatrician’s approval, milk is typically introduced at 1 year old
  • Fruit cut into small cubes or strips
  • Bite-sized, soft, cooked vegetables like zucchini or broccoli
  • Mixed food textures: macaroni and cheese, casseroles
  • Finger foods like:
    – Small pieces of bread/bagel
    – Shredded or small pieces of meat/tofu
    – Low sugar cereal
    – Soft fish

  • Encourage self-feeding with utensils
  • Remember that your job is to provide healthy, safe food options to your baby and your baby is in charge of how much to eat
  • Common choking hazards:
    – Hot dogs
    – Nuts
    – Whole grapes
    – Popcorn
    – Hard, sticky, gooey candy

Feeding Activities

Below are some activities that may promote feeding development:

See Below for Some Possible Signs of Feeding Issues

What to Watch For

  • Cannot latch on to breast or bottle
  • Sucks in light, quick, fluttery motions rather than taking deep, regular sucks
  • Frequent spitting up and/or vomiting after feeding
  • Appears hungry shortly after a feeding
  • Has diarrhea or rash after feeding
  • Stiff body or arching of back during a feeding
  • Not following baby’s own growth curve
  • Unusually short or long feedings
  • Consistently rejects solid foods
  • Is unable to keep food or liquid in mouth
  • Difficulty chewing age appropriate food
  • Does not enjoy eating a variety of foods or refuses certain food textures
  • Gagging
  • Coughing and/or choking while eating and/or drinking
  • Frequent respiratory illnesses

If you have concerns about your child’s feeding, talk to their healthcare provider. There are different types of specialists who can  help children with feeding issues including:

  • Lactation Consultants
  • Speech-Language Pathologists
  • Occupational Therapists

A specialist may recommend specific feeding techniques, exercises, and foods to help with feeding. Each child will have their own unique goals and spending time working with them each day can help improve their ability to suck, chew, and swallow for a better feeding experience.

What to Know About Feeding Allergies

What are the symptoms of food allergies?

If you notice your child has skin problems, such as rashes, hives, or swelling; stomach problems, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; and/or breathing problems, these are all symptoms of food allergies. Other signs include pale skin or light-headedness.

What should I do if I think my child has food allergies?

Talk to your child’s healthcare provider. They might recommend allergy testing via a skin prick or blood test or trying a special diet to help determine which food is causing the allergies.

Even if your child has no history of allergies, it is best to wait three days between new foods. For example, if you introduce your baby to a new food on Monday, don’t give them any other new foods until Thursday. In the event that they do have an allergic reaction, it will be easier to figure out which food was the cause.

If it is determined your child has a food allergy, keep your child away from foods containing these ingredients. Make sure to inform your child’s school and any caretakers about their allergies or medicines recommended by your child’s healthcare provider to relieve symptoms.

What are some common food allergies?

Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat cause 90% of food allergies. Introducing one new food every three days can help determine if a certain food is causing an allergic reaction.