Feeding Goals For the First Year
When parents embark on feeding their babies, they are excited, maybe a little anxious, and determined to “do it right.” Yet, the first year can be filled with plenty of questions that can make parents unsure and intimidated. Let’s look at the first year and review the key transitions and goals all parents should keep in mind.
The First 3 Months
The Goal: Connect with your baby and become a responsive feeder
Frequent feedings and middle-of the night awakenings make this time unpredictable, yet the goal is to connect and form a strong parent-child bond so your baby feels secure. When feeding, choose a calm, quiet location. Hold and look at your baby when they're eating. Pay attention to their appetite signals. Are they eating quickly or slowing down? Are they alert or falling asleep?
Hunger in babies is demonstrated by:
Rooting (seeking the breast or bottle)
Smacking/sucking of the lips
Sucking on fingers
Your baby demonstrates fullness by:
Pulling off the bottle or breast
Refusing to eat more
Relaxing the body and hands
Showing interest in other things
Reacting supportively to these cues is being responsive, also called Responsive Feeding. When you’re responsive to your baby’s feeding cues, you’re more likely to raise a child who tunes into his own appetite signals when eating.
By 6 Months
The Goal: Starting solids and food allergens with a plan
This is an exciting, adventurous time for you and your baby. Will you use the spoon or a baby-led weaning approach? Or will you combine the two techniques? Do some research into the best practices for each method so you can make an informed decision.
Starting solids is an intensified period of learning for your baby, so make sure there are no distractions like toys or electronic devices during feeding sessions. You want your baby to savor the flavors they're consuming and focus on eating.
As you move toward the 9 month mark, you’ll want to introduce food allergens. Peanuts, tree nuts, cooked eggs, and wheat are good ones to expose your baby to at this stage. Make sure these foods are developmentally appropriate for your little one. Try stirring a teaspoon of peanut butter into cereal, or offer a dissolvable cracker or puff as a finger food.
By 9 Months
The Goal: Establish self-feeding skills and a routine with feeding
Support your child by providing opportunities to self-feed with the spoon and finger foods. You can still feed your baby, but you’ll want to let them practice self-feeding skills, too.
Advance development by introducing a cup for drinking, and keep exposing your baby to a variety of foods. Add spices and herbs to the diet to capitalize on the experience with new food flavors.
Lastly, keep a routine. Routines keep life predictable during this period of change for you and your baby. Establish regular locations and times for meals and between-meal feedings that your baby can depend on.
By 12 Months
The Goal: Eating with the family.
As you close in on the end of the first year, eating is as much a nutritional event as it is a social event. Role models who are talking, eating, and interacting with food teach your baby that food is a vehicle for connection, love, and learning. Make sure to keep the family table a happy place for all. Your baby will look forward to coming to the table – and that’s the goal!
By a year, your baby can eat the family food. Modify the size and texture of food to reflect your baby’s eating skills. For example, chop lasagna into small bites for self-feeding, or separate out and chop shrimp and vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
For more information on feeding goals for baby, see my resources: The Smart Mom's Guide to Starting Solids and Learning to Eat.