Infant feeding and relationship building from birth to around 6 months
Breastmilk or first infant formula is the best source of all the food and fluid your baby needs in the first 6 months of life. If you are breastfeeding, breastmilk will continue to give your baby extra protection against illness, for as long as you carry on breastfeeding, and is good for you too.
From birth, your baby will be:
- rooting and giving other feeding cues
- able to attach at the breast
Baby's digestive system and kidneys are immature so are unable to cope with foods other than breast milk and/or infant formula.
Babies are born with skills to find the breast, feed and interact with their parents. Feeding is always about more than just feeding. It gives lots of opportunities for you and your baby to build a relationship with each other, which makes them feel safe and helps their brain grow and develop.
New babies have a strong need to be close to their parents and for their parents to respond to their needs quickly. This helps them to feel safe and loved, due to the release of the happy hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin actually helps their brain grow and develop, so that they are happier and more confident babies and children. When you hold your baby close, talk to them, smile at them and respond to them you also release oxytocin, which helps you feel calmer and happier.
From 4-5 months, your baby will:
- reach out for objects, be interested in what other people are doing and enjoy watching other people eat
- often be more wakeful at night
- have times when they want more frequent feeds for a few days
However, these are not signs that they need solids yet. They are still developing the skills they need to cope with solid foods.
What food/fluids to give your baby in the first six months
- breastmilk, according to baby's cues. Breast milk provides all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months as well as giving your baby and you some protection against some infections and illnesses
or, if not breastfeeding:
- use first infant formula milk only. The evidence does not show any benefits from buying a particular brand or other type of formula. A cheap formula is just as good for your baby as a more expensive one.
Babies will be more hungry at some times than others, so allow them to take more or less at different feeds. For more information see 'When and how to feed your baby'
In hot weather, breastfed babies may feed more often as breastmilk is a drink as well as a food. Formula-fed babies may need a little extra boiled and cooled tap water.
What to avoid
- all foods other than breastmilk or first infant formula
- all other fluids and baby fruit juices
- adding cereal or other food to milk in bottle
- honey, sugar or other sweetener added to milk or on a dummy
- any other vitamins apart from Healthy Start vitamin drops for your baby unless recommended by a health professional
Healthy Start vitamin drops: all babies need vitamins A, C and D. Healthy Start vitamins are available for FREE in Islington for babies and children from birth to 4 years of age. The Healthy Start vitamin drops provide the recommended amount of vitamins for babies and children below 5 years of age when given daily. For any further information, discuss with your health visitor.
The Healthy Start vitamins are available from health centres and children’s centres across Islington.
When and how to feed your baby
However you are feeding your baby, watch for and follow baby’s hunger cues. Baby's show when they are hungry and when they've had enough. It works best if you follow their cues, rather than trying to give feeds only at certain times or giving the same amount each time.
Even though you can't measure how much a baby is taking when breastfeeding, there are simple ways to know they are feeding well and getting enough. Look for rhythmical deep suckles and the baby’s jaw dropping, showing they are swallowing.
Babies will be more hungry at some times than others, so allow them to take more or less at differing feeds. They have very small tummies so it is normal for them to have at least 8-12 feeds a day in the first few weeks. Following your baby's cues will enable them to take the amount of milk they need.
It is easy to overfeed a baby who is bottle feeding, so it is important to use a responsive and paced bottle feeding style.
Remember that feeding is always about love, comfort and relaxing together. Hold your baby close to you when feeding them. Smiling at and talking to your baby while feeding is vital for their development.
Babies will feel more secure if most feeds are given by mum and dad, or other main carer, especially in the early weeks. See section on Baby's development.
Until around six months all your baby need is breastmilk or first infant formula. Before six months your baby has not developed enough to digest any other food. Wait until your baby shows the following signs before introducing solids:
- Can sit up with minimal support and hold up his head
- Can reach out to grab and bring the item to his mouth
- Can move food from the front of the mouth to the back to swallow.
When your baby has developed all of these signs it is most likely that his gut is developed enough to digest food and is ready to have solids. For more information, see the Starting solids webpage.