Infant Feeding 101
Blog post written by Aubry Fonseca, Purdue Dietetic Intern
Infant feeding can be confusing for any caregiver. When do I feed my baby? When should I introduce solid foods? What if my baby won’t drink breast milk? These are all common questions when it comes to caring for an infant. This post will break down the basics of infant feeding, as well as provide resources for infant feeding support.
Image from wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/breastfeeding-basics
When prompted with the idea of feeding a baby, most people probably picture feeding the baby with a bottle, not breastfeeding. However, breastfeeding is the natural way to feed an infant. Breastfeeding can provide many health benefits for both mother and baby. These include:
Ideally, breastfeeding should be done approximately every 2-4 hours a day, exclusively for the first 6 months of life. From 6 months to 1 year, breastfeeding should be combined with complementary foods. However, breastfeeding can be continued as long as mutually desired by both mother and baby. Breastfeeding can be beneficial even if done for a short amount of time.
Breastfeeding is not only good for the mother and the baby, but is also an economically friendly option. Breastfeeding doesn’t require the purchase of cans of formula or water jugs. Not having to throw away or recycle those extra cans and jugs means breastfeeding is also environmentally friendly. Breastfeeding can also lower the risk of your infant getting sick, and you know what your baby is getting because it's coming directly from the mother. (Psst, it’s also designed specifically for the baby!) The first milk that is made by the mother during pregnancy and just after birth is called colostrum. It is a deep yellow color and has many essential nutrients to help the newborn’s digestive system function. Mature breast milk contains just the right combination of water, sugar, fat, and protein to meet the infant’s needs as he or she continues to grow. Breastfeeding is also efficient, as it eliminates the time needed to prepare (and wash!) a bottle.
One question that many breastfeeding parents have is whether or not their baby is getting enough breastmilk. You will know if the baby is getting enough milk if:
While infants do have reflexes and instincts for breastfeeding, there may be some obstacles along the way. It is important to have breastfeeding support from community resources, family, and friends. If you are struggling with breastfeeding, there are infant feeding classes, peer support groups, and appointments with lactation specialists offered through WIC, community centers, and even through hospitals. Some WIC facilities also have drop-in classes for those who are not receiving WIC benefits (check your local WIC for breastfeeding support). Know that you have a choice to breastfeed if you are able and interested!
Image from www.evenflofeeding.com/education/feeding-101/how-to-have-a-calm-gulp-free-feeding
Unforeseen circumstances may lead to a mother not being able to breastfeed, and some caregivers choose to use infant formula rather than breastfeed for a variety of reasons. Infant formulas are supplemented milk products that are specially designed to meet the nutritional needs of babies. Infants can sometimes have intolerances to certain ingredients in milk and/or formula products, so it is important to consult your pediatrician to know which formula would be right for your infant. It is essential to follow the exact mixing instructions on the formula container. It has been designed to meet your infant’s exact needs through many hours of research. Incorrect formula mixing could lead to your infant not getting enough calories or nutrients!
Note: many families are still having a hard time finding, accessing, and/or paying for infant formula due to supply shortages. Click here for information that can help ease some of these worries.
Image from www.isdi.org/specialised-nutrition/complementary-food/
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solid foods at around 6 months of age, combined with breastfeeding or formula. This is the age that the infant’s nutritional and energy needs expand to more than what breastfeeding or formula can provide exclusively. It is also the time when they are typically developmentally ready for solids. These foods can include mashed fruits, vegetables, beans, etc. This is also about the time that infants can hold a cup, so breast milk (after pumping) or formula can be provided through a sippy cup.
Every baby is different, so it will depend on your baby to determine when to wean them off of the breast or bottle. It is important to be able to tell the difference between baby-led weaning and nursing strikes. A nursing strike is when a baby does not want to nurse because of a change in milk. This can be due to medications or hormone changes that may change the flavor of the milk. To determine if it is a nursing strike or a desire to wean, see how long it lasts. If it lasts multiple days, then it is more than likely a desire to wean. If you are concerned about a nursing strike, you should consult your lactation specialist or physician. A baby may want to wean once they start becoming more active and independent as they get older.
If you or someone you know needs support for breastfeeding or infant feeding, check out the resources below:
Sarah Wilson, RDN, Nutrition Manager at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, along with guest blog posts by dietetic interns