The 'How' of Feeding Your Baby

By Ellyn Satter. Used with permission


What do I need to know about how I feed my newborn?
My baby cries a lot. What can I do?
Won't I spoil my newborn if I feed her on her schedule and not mine?
What is colic?
I think my baby is constipated. Should I give a laxative?
I feed my baby infant formula, and he spits up all the time. Should I change formula?
Bottle Feeding Your Baby
Tips on bottle feeding
How should I wash my baby's bottle?
Keeping Formula Safe
How much should I feed my baby?
What should I know about feeding my 2-6 month old baby?
What should I know about feeding my 6- to 12-month-old baby?
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What do I need to know about how I feed my newborn?

Your newborn comes out of a quiet, dark place into a world full of sights, sounds and commotion. To do well with eating, she needs help being calm and staying awake. To help her, feed her the way she wants you to. Don't worry about spoiling her. You can't spoil a tiny baby.

Pay attention to her cues and feed her when she wants to eat, when she is wide awake and calm and before she gets upset from crying.

Sit still during feeding. Keep the feeding smooth and steady.

Let her eat her way – much or little, fast or slowly, steady or start-and-stop.

Stop feeding her when she shows you she is finished eating. She will relax, slow down and stop nursing.

Talk or play awhile after feeding. Put her to bed when she's calm and drowsy and let her put herself to sleep.

Your baby will eat as much as she needs and grow in the way that is right for her if you maintain a division of responsibility in feeding. You are responsible for the what of feeding – breastmilk or formula. Your baby is responsible for everything else – when, where, how much, how fast.

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My baby cries a lot. What can I do?

Parents are often surprised at how much babies cry. Crying can be perfectly normal for your baby, but stressful for you. These suggestions may help during these trying times:

  • Check to see if your baby is cold, needs a diaper change, or is hungry.
  • Wrap your baby snugly in a blanket, hold your baby close to you, and rock gently.
  • Turn on soft music. Loud music, yelling, or the television can make the crying worse.
  • If the crying makes you feel like you may lose control, call a friend to take care of your baby while you go for a walk or get out of the house for a few minutes.
  • If you can't call your friend, put baby in a crib for safety. Close the door to the room, and go to another room for a few minutes until you have calmed down.
  • Never shake your baby because you are upset or frustrated with the crying. Never let anyone else shake your crying baby.

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Won't I spoil my newborn if I feed her on her schedule and not mine?

You can't spoil a newborn. Babies communicate in a variety of ways to let you know what they need. Start learning about your baby's communication signals (or cues) to know what she's telling you:

Find out what your baby is crying for. Studies show that babies are more content, cry much less and sleep more at night when someone responds quickly and warmly to their cries as newborns.

Your baby becomes secure as you meet his needs. Over time, your baby learns to trust you. Then trust turns into a strong bond and a deep love between you.

Babies give clues when they are hungry or full.

Hungry babies will let you know it. First they may fuss, make faces like they are going to cry, chew on a hand, open and close their lips, or look like they are trying to nurse. Babies cry when they get really hungry, and their earlier signals haven't resulted in a feeding. It's not easy to feed a crying baby, so look for the early hunger cues.

Full babies will let you know it, too. They will close their lips tightly, pull away from the breast or bottle, go to sleep, or get interested in something else. Watch closely and you can tell when your baby is full.

A newborn's tummy is about the size of a golf ball – that's small! Newborns eat only small amounts. They also eat different amounts at different times. This is normal. A little spitting up after feeding is normal, too.

Babies eat more when they are going through a growth spurt, a time of fast growth that lasts only a few days. They may wake up more often (day and night) to eat more often. The first growth spurt takes place between 2-4 weeks of age.

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What is colic?

Colic is when a healthy baby cries for several hours a day and you can't figure out why. Colic usually begins about three weeks of age and goes away by three or four months of age. Your doctor can help you decide if your baby has colic. No one "treatment" works for all infants.

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I think my baby is constipated. Should I give a laxative?

NO! A laxative or suppository may be too strong. Many babies do not have a bowel movement everyday. Most babies' faces turn red and they make funny noises when they have a bowel movement.

Constipation is hard stools that are difficult to pass. If your baby is really constipated, the stools will be small and hard like marbles. If you baby is truly constipated, try offering 1 to 2 ounces of plain water each day for 1 to 2 days. If this doesn't help by the third day, call your baby's doctor.

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I feed my baby infant formula, and he spits up all the time. Should I change formula?

Almost all babies spit up some, especially as newborns. Before you change the formula: Read the label and make sure you are mixing the formula right. Call your WIC office if you are not sure how to mix the formula properly.

Burp your baby after every 1 to 2 ounces of formula.

Try feeding your baby in an upright position for about half an hour before lying him down flat. An infant seat or car seat works well for this.

If these ideas don't help, talk to your baby's doctor to find out if you should be concerned, and help identify why your baby is spitting up.

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Bottle Feeding Your Baby

If you decide not to breastfeed, or you are unable to breastfeed, feeding your baby with a commercial iron fortified formula is a good substitute. Be well informed, use your own best judgment, consult with your WIC Nutritionist and your doctor, and don't let anyone – however well-meaning – make you feel guilty for bottle feeding.

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Tips on bottle feeding

Mix baby's formula following the directions on the can. It is important to mix formula right to keep your baby healthy. Infant formula with iron is best. The public water is generally safe to use. If you have well water or have concerns about your town water supply, ask the WIC staff.

Hold your baby close when feeding. Give your baby lots of love and attention during feeding. Don't prop the bottle or lay baby down with a bottle. It can cause choking and ear infections.

Burp your baby after about half the bottle and again at the end of feeding. Some babies may need to burp more often.

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Bottles are for formula and plain water only. Sugar water, Karo syrup, juice, Kool-Aid, soda, or teas do not belong in your baby's bottle.

Cereal should not be added to the bottle. It does not help babies sleep any longer and may cause allergies or choking.

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How should I wash my baby's bottle?

To wash bottle by hand: Wash bottles in hot soapy water. Use a bottle brush to clean the inside and nipples. Rinse in clear water. Boil in a large pan of water for 5 minutes. Place bottles and nipples on a clean towel to dry.

To wash in a dishwasher: Rinse bottles well with hot water. Use a bottle brush if needed. Wash and let dry in the dishwasher.

Throw nipples away when they become sticky.

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Keeping Formula Safe

Always wash your hands before making or feeding formula.

Keep formula in the refrigerator after mixing. A bottle of formula left at room temperature for more than 1 hour can make your baby sick. (See also breast milk storage guidelines.)

If you will be away from home and need to bring formula that you have already mixed, put the bottle in a cooler with ice packs. If you use powdered formula, mix one bottle at a time as you need it.

To warm a cold bottle of formula, put it in a pan of warm water. Before feeding, shake the bottle well and sprinkle a little formula on your wrist to be sure it is not too hot.

Do not heat the bottle in a microwave oven. Heating a bottle in a microwave can cause hot spots that can burn your baby's mouth.

Throw away any formula left in the bottle after feeding.

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How much should I feed my baby?

Newborn babies have small tummies. They drink small amounts of breastmilk or formula at each feeding and need to eat often. As babies grow, they will drink more at each feeding and may want to feed less often. Let your baby decide how much to eat. The following guide may help your get started.

  • A baby in his first month may drink 1-2 ounces every 2-3 hours
  • 1-2 month old may drink 2-3 ounces every 2-3 hours
  • 2-3 month old may drink 4-5 ounces every 3-4 hours
  • 3-4 month old may drink 5-6 ounces every 3-4 hours

Babies do not always get hungry on a schedule and do not always take the same amount at a feeding. You need to be flexible. It is OK for your newborn baby to sleep one 5-hour period at night before the next feeding. As babies grow, they will sleep longer.

Remember: Hold your baby for all feedings. Don't put baby to bed with a bottle.

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What should I know about feeding my 2-6 month old baby?

When your baby is 2 or 3 months old, he begins to learn about love. He watches, smiles, jabbers, and reaches out to get your attention and to keep you close. Pay attention to the information coming from your baby to guide feeding. This shows him you love him and teaches him to love you back. Don't worry about spoiling him. You can't spoil a tiny baby. Continue to feed on demand. Wait until he is near six months to start solids, then start based on what?your baby can do, not on how old he is.

Around 4-6 months of age, most babies will have good head and neck control and will be able to sit up with support. Babies need to be able to do both of these things in order to be ready to try solid foods.

Feed your baby when he wants to eat, when he is wide awake and calm.

Make your baby's first food iron-fortified rice cereal. Start by offering 1-2 teaspoons of cereal mixed with enough breastmilk or formula to make a thin mixture. Let him eat his way – much or little, fast or slowly, steady or start-and-stop.

After introducing a new food, continue to feed your baby the new food every day, but do not give your baby another new food for that week. Watch your baby to see if there are any signs of an allergic reaction, such as a rash, more spitting up than usual, vomiting, wheezing, or diarrhea. If you see any of these signs, stop feeding the new food and contact your baby's doctor.

Bring him to the table with you when you eat. He loves being with you, and he begins learning what eating is all about.

Start solids?when he can sit up, open his mouth when he sees something coming, and close his lips over the spoon.

Talk or play awhile after feeding. Put him to bed when he's calm and drowsy and let him put himself to sleep.

After your baby has gotten used to rice cereal, try other cereals (like oatmeal) as a new food.

After your baby has tried different cereals, try a cooked strained vegetable as the new food for the week. Most babies like the orange vegetables (like sweet potatoes or squash).

After your baby has gotten used to some vegetables, try a cooked strained fruit (like applesauce or pears) as the new food for the week.

Continue to feed your baby breastmilk or iron-fortified infant formula until the first birthday. This continues to be your baby's major source of nutrition, even though you have started feeding solid foods.

Your baby will eat as much as he needs and grow in the way that is right for him if you maintain a division of responsibility in feeding. You are responsible for the what of feeding – breastmilk or formula. Your baby is responsible for everything else – when, where, how much, how fast.

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What should I know about feeding my 6- to 12-month-old baby?

You are still responsible for the what of feeding – breastmilk or formula, solid foods. The when and where of feeding is now beginning to change to your responsibility as well. Your baby is still responsible for how much and how fast she chooses to eat. Continue to watch your baby for signs of hunger and fullness, and respect her cues.

Now is the time to let your baby start to learn to feed himself. Around 7 to 8 months, give your baby small pieces of food to pick up and eat with his fingers. Crackers and small pieces of well-cooked vegetables work well.

You can begin to train your baby to expect a 3-meal-per-day schedule. Bring your baby to the table when you eat. Family meals are a time for your baby to learn to socialize with everyone.

Babies need more than 3 meals per day, so you can feed your baby a small snack in between meals and before bedtime. Use good foods as snack items: small pieces of soft fresh fruit or vegetables, whole-grain crackers, or cereals make good snacks.

Remember, all babies need to learn how to feed themselves. When they are learning, they will make a mess! Some babies need to "feel" foods before they are willing to try eating them. Be patient!

Keep it simple! Your baby needs to learn how each new food tastes by itself. Choose plain foods, not combinations (like casseroles).

Variety is important! Once your baby has tried a lot of different foods and has not had any reactions to them, offer different plain vegetables and fruits each day. Feed your baby the "colors of the rainbow." Continue to offer just one new food each week.

Now is the time to teach your baby to drink from a cup! Give your baby a small cup of water with meals.

Use a cup without a cover. Sip cups are simply a bottle replacement and do not really teach the new skill of cup drinking.

This is a new process for your baby, so expect spills. Water does not result in a mess when spilled, so it is a good training beverage.

When your baby has learned to use the cup with water, you can begin to put a small amount of breastmilk or formula in it at meals and snacks.

Wait until your baby is 12 months before you offer 100 percent fruit juice. If your baby drinks from a bottle, only put breastmilk, formula or water in it. Do not put juice in a bottle.

By 12 months, your baby's food at mealtimes should be the same as what you eat. Make sure to include your baby in family meals.

Avoid foods that can choke your baby. Foods such as peanuts, popcorn, hot dogs, raw vegetables, whole grapes, raisins and hard candy are foods that can get stuck in her throat.

Sweet drinks like soda and juice drinks, and sweet foods are not foods your baby needs. Your baby is still eating small amounts of foods, and these will cause tooth decay and fill your baby up without giving your baby the nutrition she needs.

For more about feeding your baby (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Child of Mine; Feeding with Love and Good Sense, Bull Publishing, 2000. Also see www.EllynSatter.com to purchase books and to review comprehensive educational materials that teach stage-related feeding and solve feeding problems.
Copyright © 2010 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatter.com.

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Smart Start Brochures Print Friendly (*free viewer)

Name:  Smart Start Age 0-4 Months
Description:  Feeding guidance for infant 0-4 months

Name:  Smart Start Age 4-6 Months
Description:  Feeding guidance for infant 4-6 months

Name:  Smart Start Age 6-8 Months
Description:  Feeding guidance for infant 6-8 months

Name:  Smart Start Age 8-12 Months
Description:  Feeding guidance for infant age 8-12 months

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