This is a complete guide to baby feeding and baby food

A baby being bottle fed
photo by Lucy Wolski on Unsplash

When it comes to baby feeding and baby food there are many options and questions. We run through your options here, from breastfeeding to baby-led weaning and answer questions like, what food to give your baby as they grow?

Baby feeding and the baby food that you can give your little one is a huge subject. Books have been written about each aspect of feeding babies. We’ve done our best to distil that information here and answer common questions.

The Baby food industry is a big business worth nearly £700 million per year. This means there’s lots of marketing out there promoting various products and claims. There is so much choice when you start looking into foods for your baby. However, do you need those? we answer this question later.

It’s worth noting here that if your baby isn’t feeding or gaining weight as you may expect you should speak to your health visitor or doctor. See our article about baby weight for average weights and heights.

Feeding a baby food can present a choking hazard, therefore it’s vital to have some basic first aid skills and knowledge. Read our article about how you can get a free first aid guide for babies from the St Johns Ambulance.

Baby feeding timeline

Newborn baby feeding

Babies get all they need nutritionally in the first six months from just breastfeeding or formula. You can also use a mix of the two at different times. This is most common if you need a break or if dad wants to take over the feeding and mum is not expressing her milk.

Your baby will normally need or want to feed around 8 to 12 times a day to start with. It may be more times than this though. A baby’s stomach is only the size of a ping pong ball. This is why they feed so many times in a day.

You can keep breastfeeding your baby into their second year or longer if you want. This is the norm in the UK and many western countries. This is also the World Health Organisation’s recommendation.

Some different cultures vary on when to stop. The Inuit people instance generally keep breastfeeding up to seven years old. Research and studies have found that children that are breastfed get ill less and they also have a lower mortality rate.

Parents can start feeding (weaning) their babies solid foods at around 6 months. Breastfeeding should continue alongside weaning.

Baby food for a baby from 6 months

Your baby will still get most of what they need nutritionally from breast milk or formula. Because of this, what baby food you give them does not matter too much.

You don’t need to be in a rush to feed your baby solid foods. If they can’t sit up, hold their head up straight or their body weight hasn’t doubled it’s okay to wait for a little bit longer. This said if they’re eying your food while you eat and they reach for it, then it’s a good indication they may be ready.

You can choose to mash up or puree your baby’s food and spoon feed them to start with. Baby-led weaning has become very popular over the last few years. There’s more on that below.

It’s important to note that you make sure foods have cooled after being cooked and don’t contain pips or bones.

Feeding a baby at 12 months and beyond

From about this time you can start introducing other foods such as eggs for breakfast. Sandwiches or soup for lunch. Then baked potato or pasta for dinner. If you’re wondering about your child using cutlery, it’s not until around 2 to 3 years old they’ll really be able to use a spoon.

This can be a messy experience to start with until they’ve learnt the motor control needed. Most children don’t become proficient in using a knife and fork until about the age of seven.

Also at 12 months, babies, along with their breast or formula milk should now be used to having 3 meals a day. They can also have healthy snacks in between their meals if required.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can take time to get used to as a new mother. You may often wonder if you’re doing it correctly or even if your baby is getting enough milk. With time though it’ll become second nature.

For the first few days, you’ll spend time getting used to breastfeeding. You need to find what feels comfortable for you and your baby. There is no right or wrong way to position yourself and your baby. A feeding pillow can help with positioning and comfort.

It’s important to keep trying though it can be hard sometimes.

The National Breastfeeding Helpline

If you need further support, call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212. You can get support and information and lines are open 0930 to 2130 every day. When you call you’ll get confidential, independent and non-judgemental help. Calls to the hotline cost the same as calling 01 or 02 numbers in the UK. They will be part of any inclusive minutes you have from your landline or mobile provider.

Visit the Breastfeeding hotline website

Bottle feeding for mums and dads

You may choose to bottle feed your baby. Either expressing breast milk or formula. Bottle feeding is a great chance for fathers to connect and bond with their baby. This also gives mothers a break too.

Sterilising baby bottles and equipment

When using bottles and other feeding equipment it’s important to ensure that they are clean and sterilised. You should also make sure that your hands are clean when making bottles up. Washing bottles first and then sterilising them in hot water is ideal. Common methods of sterilising are:

  • In a microwave (you do need a larger microwave for this) or electric bottle steamer.
  • You can sterilise a bottle in a pan of hot boiling water for 10 minutes.
  • Using a cold water sterilising solution.

Tips for bottle feeding your baby:

  • Make sure you are sitting comfortably – a pillow under the arm you will hold your baby with will help.
  • You should support their neck and hold them fairly upright to allow them to swallow easily.
  • Let them take the teat of the bottle into their mouth by holding it close.
  • Some babies take longer than others to feed, while some will drink fairly fast. let them go at their own speed. Giving them enough time

Baby formula

There is a wide variety of choice when looking at formula. The age of your baby will determine the type of formula you pick. Excluding this factor, formula has pretty much the same ingredients across brands when it comes to nutrition. Therefore when choosing and using a formula it comes down to personal choice of brand and cost. Another factor of course is if your baby likes the taste. You may have to try a couple of brands to find one they like.

When making up formula milk for your baby it’s important to follow the instructions carefully.

Which? magazine carried out a review of baby formula here.

When can babies have cows milk?

You should not give your baby cows milk until after their first birthday. This is because cow’s milk does not contain enough iron for a baby. That said it is okay to use cows milk in cooking after they are 6 months old.

Baby-led weaning – First baby food

What is baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning is a simple way of introducing food to your baby and allowing them to choose what to eat. It is done alongside breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Foods are left whole and are soft to eat or cooked to soften them. Example foods can be found in the list below. This replaces the conventional method of spoon-feeding a baby mashed up or pureed food.

Key things to remember when first giving your baby food are:

  • Ensure that cooked foods are not hot
  • Always be close to your baby to supervise them
  • They are sat upright in a high chair
  • Food is cut small enough to avoid choking, especially foods such as grapes or cherry tomatoes
  • Carefully check any foods for pips, stones, shells or bones
  • Do not rush your baby to eat food, allow them to go at their own pace
  • They have water available to drink
  • It can get messy, but that’s okay
  • You do not need to add salt or sugar to your baby’s foods

Foods that you give your baby should be small and soft enough for them that they can be easily mashed up in their mouths. The first baby foods you could try giving to your little one are:

  • Banana
  • Sweet potato
  • Carrot
  • Avocado
  • Pear
  • Butternut squash
  • Cherry tomatoes (cut up to avoid choking)
  • Salmon
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Pasteurised full-fat cheese

Foods that you should avoid

If you keep your baby’s foods simple then you can’t go far wrong. Keep away from processed foods is the main rule. That said if you go for baby specific ‘processed’ baby ready meals’ you’ll be okay. These foods don’t tend to have added ingredients such as sugar and salt.

Foods that you should stay away from are

  • Foods that have high saturated fat, such as crisps and cakes
  • Peanuts and whole nuts – these should not be given to under 5s as they present a choking hazard
  • Shellfish
  • Any Salty foods – such as crisps, ready meals or bacon
  • Any sugary foods or drinks – such as sweets, cakes and fruit juices.

Ready meals for babies

When we talk about ready meals for babies we’re not talking about standard ready meals for adults. Adult ready meals (This also includes canned foods such as soups and sauces from a jar too.) should not be given to children, they are highly processed and usually have added sugar, salt or both. This along with many other ingredients makes them not suitable for babies or children. To be honest, even we as adults should limit our intake of them.

Baby ready meals on the other hand do have their place, they are great for convenience. If you fancy a takeaway one because you don’t feel like cooking one evening, feeding your baby a ready meal can save you time. If you’re in a rush to get out, picking up a pouch for lunch can get you out of a hole. It even makes sense to leave a couple in your baby changing bag too. This is very helpful if you end up being out later than planned.

Baby ready meals and pouches certainly don’t replace ‘real’ food such as fruit and vegetables though. They’re not as nutritious and they are still processed.

Conclusion

Baby feeding at all stages can take time to get used to. Be patient with your baby. It can get messy at times so make sure to have a muslin or two handy for quick clean-ups. It’s okay for them to leave food if they don’t want it, they can try it again later on as tastes change.

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