How to Feed a Baby: A Guide for New Parents
Wondering how much to feed a baby? How often to feed a baby? Whether you should breastfeed or formula feed? Find the answers to these questions and more here to give your baby the best start to their life.
As you prepare for a new addition to your family, there are a lot of important things to consider. As a part of keeping your baby safe and healthy, you need to know how to feed a baby in the manner that is best for their age.
In this article, we’ll focus on feeding a newborn baby. It can be an intimidating process, and new parents often have many questions. What do you feed a baby? How much do you feed a baby? Which is better for my baby: breastfeeding vs. formula?
We always recommend that you speak with your local pediatrician for medical advice. Here, we offer you some basic advice as a newborn baby feeding guide.
Breastfeeding vs. Formula: The Age-Old Question
As you learn about the first foods to feed a baby, you will probably face this dilemma: breastfeeding vs. formula feeding.
Many articles exist to laud the benefits of one process over another, with health advantages backing up each argument. However, there is really only one determinant as to what is best to feed your baby: whichever process is best for you.
Some mothers can easily breastfeed their child when he or she needs it. Some mothers can’t, through no fault of their own. Neither of these mothers are “better” than the other, and don’t believe anyone that tells you differently.
Before you make this decision, there are a few important things to know about each process:
- Breastfeeding is not possible for all mothers and babies. If you are having trouble breastfeeding your child, talk with your pediatrician. Breastfeeding may simply not be the right answer for you.
- Breastmilk is the perfect food for a baby’s digestive system. It has all the nutrients that a newborn needs and it is easily digestible. Babies should not eat anything other than breastmilk (or formula) for at least the first four months of their lives.
- Breastfeeding requires extra work from a mother. Babies who are breastfed often eat more than babies fed formula, which means a mother can find herself feeding her baby as often as every two or three hours in the first weeks of their life. Mothers who cannot be with their child 24/7 must commit to pumping when they are away from their child.
- For women who cannot breastfeed their babies, formula feeding is a viable alternative — and the only way for a young baby to get the nutrients they need.
- Formula feeding can be expensive. Not only will you need to buy the formula itself, but also the required items: baby bottles, nipples/teats, cleaning supplies, etc.
- Babies who are formula fed may need fewer feedings than one being breastfed, as formula takes longer to digest.
- Mothers who bottle-feed their babies can bond with them just as much as mothers who breastfeed.
If you are deciding on breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, know that both processes will require hard work and preparation. Switching from breastfeeding to formula is always an option, but you should work with your pediatrician to determine what feeding schedule is best for your baby.
Creating a Baby-Feeding Schedule
It’s normal for new parents to wonder how much to feed a baby and how often to feed a baby. Remember, every baby is different, so their baby feeding schedule will be unique. Fortunately, your baby will let you know when they are hungry and when they are full. You just need to learn the signs to watch out for.
Typically, a newborn will need to feed about eight to 12 times per day during their first couple of weeks of life. However, parents should always be ready to feed on demand. This means looking for signs a baby is hungry, such as:
- Opening their mouth
- Sticking out their tongue
- Moving their head from side to side (imitating the “rooting” instinct)
- Puckering their lips
Similarly, you’ll know when your baby is done feeding. There is no set answer as to how much to feed a baby, but a baby usually indicates they are full by slowing down, detaching from the food source or turning away from the food source completely.
As you and your baby settle into your baby-feeding schedule, you may find that your baby is cluster feeding. This means that, at a certain time in the day, your child seems to want to do nothing but feed. For a baby to space feeding times closer together during a certain time is completely normal, but it can be frustrating for a parent. Try to let your baby nurse as long or as often as they will, and recruit your spouse (if applicable) to share responsibilities during this time. Fussy cluster feeding occurs in both formula-fed and breastfed infants.
Another important thing to know: You do not have to wake a baby up to feed them. If they are hungry, they will let you know. Enjoy any time your baby is sleeping to give yourself the relaxation you will likely need.
When to Feed a Baby Solids
It’s a common question from new parents: “When can I feed my baby baby food and other solids?”
The answer: It depends. Because every baby is unique, be patient and recognize that they will start eating solids and baby food when they are ready — not before.
A typical rule of thumb is that a baby will start showing signs of readiness for solid food around 4 to 6 months old. Your baby won’t have teeth at this point, so saying they’re ready to eat “solids” is a relative term. These “solids” will typically be pureed vegetables, fruits and meats and other soft baby food.
Your baby may be ready to start eating solid food if they:
- Can hold their head up and sit upright in a highchair
- Weigh at least 13 pounds
- Can close their mouth around a spoon
- Can move food from the front to the back of their mouth
When you start feeding solids to your baby, make sure the transition is slow. Your child will take some time to learn how to eat solid food, and they may not take to new foods right away. Patience is key. Always talk to your pediatrician for more guidance on when to start feeding baby food to your child.
Learning how to feed a baby can be a process of trial and error — but don’t stress out if you feel your baby doesn’t fit into the perfect, doctor-recommended “baby feeding chart.” Above all else, do what is best for your baby and pay attention to their needs, and you’ll both be happier for doing so.