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Feeding Your Baby and Toddler (Birth to Age Two)

What do I need to know about feeding my new baby?
For the first six months of life, your baby needs only breast milk or infant formula to eat.  Breastmilk contains a unique mix of fatty acids, lactose, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and other important factors that combine to make the perfect infant food. It has everything a baby needs for easy digestion, brain development, healthy growth, and protection from illness.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that [1]:

More resources on feeding babies:

A special note to parents of babies who are dark-skinned and exclusively breastfed (no formula and limited solids): Your baby needs a vitamin D supplement during the first year of life, and possibly even beyond that [2]. Breastfed babies can get rickets (weak bones) from a lack of sunlight during the winter.  Dark-skinned babies are most at risk. Our bodies use sunlight on our skin to make vitamin D. In the winter when the sun is low, babies don't go outside as much, and we bundle them up, so their bodies have less chance to make the vitamin D they need for strong bones. Vitamin D also has other important health benefits.  Talk to your baby's doctor about vitamin D.

Is it safe to prepare formula with well water?
Formula and food prepared with well water may cause nitrate poisoning [3] . If you use well water, have it tested regularly for nitrate content, and consider that it’s safest to breastfeed your baby. Even when mothers take in very high levels of nitrates, a breastfed baby is not at risk. Find out more about the role of dietary nitrate in food and water from the AAP.

How can I get breastfeeding information and support?
Recent numbers from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) show that 3 out of 4 new mothers in the US starts out breastfeeding. But those numbers drop a lot by 6 months and one year. It may seem like breastfeeding is natural and so should "come naturally." In fact, it can take some work early on, and often new moms need advice. It can help a lot to know how to find advice and support.

Where can I find books about breastfeeding?

How do I know if my baby is getting enough to eat?
Keep track of your baby's wet and poopy diapers.  Once mom's milk comes in, the theory of "what-goes-in-one-end-comes-out-the-other" works.  If your baby has 4-6 wet disposable diapers (or 6-8 cloth) and 3-4 poopy diapers in 24 hours that usually means they are getting enough breastmilk.  Talk to your baby's health care provider at your office visits about your baby's growth chart if you are concerned or curious.  (See below for online growth chart links.)  It is important to remember that as babies get a little older the number of bowel movements per day may decrease.  Some breastfed babies have only one bowel movement per week (after about 2 months of age).

How and when do I start my baby on solid foods?
Don't rush to start solids.  They will only upset your baby's tummy if you give them before your baby is ready to digest them.  Breast milk or formula is far more nutritious than any solid you could give your baby.  Solid foods aren't as convenient, anyway!  Wait until your baby shows signs that they are ready.  Your baby's health care provider can talk to you about the signs of readiness.   Usually babies are ready around six months old, and sometimes a little earlier.  Your baby's first solid food should be an iron-fortified rice cereal.  You may hear that solid food will help your baby sleep through the night, but this is a myth.  Be aware of the potential risks to babies of foods prepared using well water.

Read all about feeding your:

What do I need to know about feeding my 1-2 year old?
At a year old, formula-fed babies can switch to whole cow's milk. It is important to use "whole" milk, because children under two years old need fat for brain development. One-year-old breastfed babies will benefit from continuing to nurse, for as long as both mother and baby are happy with the arrangement. Your baby should be joining you at the table for meals, and be learning about mealtime as family time. Family meals have many benefits for kids as they grow. 

Starting off right with family meals: What if it’s hard to find time for family meals?
Hard to find time for home-cooked meals for those family meals? Believe it or not, fast food may not actually save you time or money. Try batch-cooking—also called cooking once a month—and freezing.  
Here are some more tips and tools for making family meals work:

How do I know if my child is getting enough to eat and growing properly?
Is your child following their growth curve? The percentile your child falls into is not so important. Instead, look for steady growth that follows the curve. If you have questions or concerns about your child's growth chart, ask their doctor or nurse practitioner.

What if I'm concerned about my child's weight?
If you have concerns, talk to your child’s health care provider. For more information, see:

How much milk or juice should my little one drink?
If your child doesn't seem to want to eat food, but drinks lots of milk and juice, they may be filling up on calories (energy) from these liquids.

Preschoolers should not drink more than a maximum of 16-24 ounces (2-3 cups) of milk each day. After age two, give your child reduced fat milk (skim or 1% milk fat). Even kids' arteries can clog up if they eat too much saturated fat.

Juice is not as nutritious as fresh whole fruit. If your child drinks juice, read the label carefully, and make sure it is 100% fruit juice. A yummy alternative to juice is a fruit smoothie made with whole fruit and yogurt in the blender.

Here are the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines [4] on giving juice to kids:

To reduce the amount of milk or juice your child takes in, try diluting it with water, and each day gradually add more water until your child is drinking plain water to quench their thirst. This will help them make the change little by little.

What about soda pop?
That brings us to soda pop. And of course, little ones should not drink soda pop or other sweetened drinks. Soda pop fills you up with either empty calories or artificial sweeteners, and often contains caffeine. Ask any dentist: it's terrible for your teeth to have acidic, sugary liquid pass over them as you drink. In addition, drinking lots of soda pop has been linked to increased risk of bone loss.

Remember to model good nutrition habits.  If your family likes these drinks, save them for an occasional, special treat. Start healthy habits early, and don't introduce your toddler to soda pop until they are older.  Water should be your main thirst-quencher. Keep filtered water, 100% fruit juice, and skim milk or calcium-fortified soy milk in your refrigerator instead of soda pop.

What about picky eaters?
A picky eater can drive you nuts. How do you know if you need to worry? Again, as long as your child has energy and is healthy and growing, they are probably getting enough food. If you are concerned, check with their doctor.

Listen to a podcast interview with UMHS pediatrician Julie Lumeng about Picky Eaters: Turning 'Yuck' into 'Yum'.

Is snacking okay?
Snacks are great if your little one eats healthy snack foods.  Now is the time to start healthy snacking habits with your little eater.  Think of snacks as mini-meals, and use them to get more grains, fruits, and vegetables into your child's diet. Keep healthy snacks ready and available to your kids. Bring healthy snacks with you on outings, instead of relying on fast food. Here are some ideas for healthy, no-cook, kid-friendly snacks:

What book should I read to help my child develop healthy eating habits?
How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much, by Ellyn Satter.
This book is helpful for all parents to read, whether or not their children have eating problems. It applies to kids from birth through the teen years. The advice in this book can start your child off with a healthy relationship with food that will last a lifetime.

What are some other feeding and nutrition resources?


Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN. Reviewed by Julie Lumeng, MD.

Updated September 2010


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U-M Health System Related Sites and Services:
U-M Breastfeeding / Lactation Program
U-M Pediatrics
U-M C.S. Mott Children's Hospital


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