Infant Feeding Guidelines

Expert Q&A

Father Holding Baby Drinking Out Of Bottle
How much food should your baby be eating?. Cavan Images/Taxi/Getty Images

Q. My 5-month-old baby has been eating four times a day. She totals 32oz of formula and one scoop of rice with each meal. She also has 1TBS of carrots during two of those feedings. My question is how much formula should she be consuming per day? When do I start feeding her more solids and less formula? Are there any rules on this? Amanda, Webster, Texas

A. The average 5-month-old is drinking between 24-32 ounces of baby formula each day, so it sounds like you are right on track.

Keep in mind that is just an average, though, and some are nursing or drinking more and other less formula than that each day. See this article, Amount of Formula Feedings, for more information.

Rules for Feeding Baby Food

The amount of solids you are giving her also seem about right. It is usually recommended that you start a baby on solid foods between 4-6 months, classically beginning with an iron fortified rice cereal. You would next offer a vegetable or fruit, although the timing of that depends on when you started cereal. If you waited until your baby was 6 months old to start cereal, then you would probably quickly introduce a vegetable or fruit. On the other hand, if you started cereal early, like around 4 months, then your baby might be ready for a vegetable or fruit by 5 or 6 months.

There really aren't any hard and fast rules for feeding baby food, though. Even the guidelines on which foods to start and which foods to avoid have changed quite a bit.

While it once thought that you had to start with cereal and should avoid things like egg whites and other "allergy foods," you can now start with whatever you like. Avoiding specific foods won't keep your baby from developing food allergies.

Still, you have to start with something, and cereal is an easy thing with which to start.

The only thing that you might change, is that instead of giving her the rice cereal with each meal, you could just give her a little more at 1 or 2 separate times each day. That might help you get into a routine of regular meals later on.

Infant Feeding Guidelines

When should you start feeding her more solid foods and less formula?

It will probably be some time before you would expect a baby who is starting baby food to cut back on her formula intake or nursing. In fact, you might not expect her to cut back until she is 8-9 months old, or maybe not until after her first birthday.

As for how much solid food to give her, there are no definite guidelines. Instead, watch your baby for signs that she is still hungry or not satisfied, and then begin to offer more. If she gobbles down that tablespoon of carrots and seems eager to eat more, then maybe give another tablespoon or two. If after a tablespoon she has already lost interest and turns away from the baby spoon, then she likely isn't ready for more.

Once you get up to 3-4 tablespoons of cereal and a fruit and vegetable at one meal, then it is usually time to introduce another meal during the day, with the goal of 3 regular meals by the time your baby is about 7-8 months old.

Guidelines to Starting Solid Foods

To help ease your baby's transition to solid foods, keep in mind the following guidelines:

  • start solids sometime between 4-6 months, once your baby is showing signs of being ready and can eat from a spoon
  • an iron-fortified rice cereal is classically the first solid food that your baby should eat, but you can choose something else, preferably an iron-fortified or iron-rich food if you are breastfeeding
  • experiment to find the best time to feed your baby solids, for example before, after, or at a separate time from formula or breastfeeding
  • to easily detect food allergies, only give one new, single ingredient food at a time, and wait 3-4 days before introducing another.
  • begin with just a teaspoon or less when you are first introducing solids and then slowly increase to a tablespoon or more as your baby gets the hang of eating solid foods
  • continue to offer your baby an iron fortified cereal even after you introduce other solid foods, as it is a good source of iron or your growing infant
  • be aware of the dangers of choke foods, like uncut spaghetti, chunks of peanut butter, whole grapes, nuts, and hot dogs
  • too much seafood can expose younger kids to mercury, so follow current fish and mercury warnings when feeding children seafood.
  • talk to your pediatrician if your baby won't eat any solids by the time he is 7-8 months old

Remember that although the 'rules' for offering baby food are much looser these days, there was nothing really wrong with the classic method of starting with rice cereal, so you can still do that. And after rice cereal, consider moving on to other cereals, like oatmeal and barley, and then introduce strained vegetables, fruits and lastly, meats.

And even though rules of what you can feed your baby have been liberalized a great deal, it still isn't safe to feed honey to infants under age 12 months.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics 2012; 129:3 e827-e841

American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Diagnosis and Prevention of Iron Deficiency and Iron-Deficiency Anemia in Infants and Young Children (0-3 Years of Age). Pediatrics 2010; 126: 1040-1050.

AAP Policy Statement. Prevention of Choking Among Children. PEDIATRICS Vol. 125 No. 3 March 2010, pp. 601-607.

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