Breastfeeding Stages From Birth to 12 Months and Beyond

Nine month baby boy lying down Breastfeeding Stages from Birth to One Year
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When your baby's a newborn and a young infant, you just breastfeed, and if you need to or choose to, you may also supplement with formula. So, things aren't all that complicated.

But, as the weeks and months go on, you may start to wonder what's next. When should you start cereal? When should you try baby food? Once you start cereal and other foods, how much should you breastfeed? 

It can become especially confusing when you have family and friends telling you what they did and giving you their opinions and advice, welcome and unwelcome. But don't worry, we've got you covered. Here's the breakdown of your baby's nutritional needs from birth to 12 months and beyond. 

Birth to 6 Months

Exclusive breastfeeding provides your baby with all of the nutrients that they need during the first few months of life. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of your baby's life followed by continued breastfeeding along with complementary food for 1 year of life or longer.

During the first 6 months, you don't have to give your baby water, cereal, or anything else unless you decide to give them infant formula in addition to or instead of breast milk. If you choose to or need to, it's safe to breastfeed and give your baby infant formula.

As for other food other than breast milk and infant formula, you should not introduce solids including cereal and pureed baby food until your baby is about 6 months old.

Some studies show that waiting to start solid foods may prevent the development of eczema in the first 2 years of life when a baby is exclusively breastfed for the first 4 months. Likewise, exclusively breastfeeding for the first 4 months protects against asthma even after 5 years of age. Your child's pediatrician will guide you and let you know when your baby is ready.

6 to 12 Months

Breastfeeding is still very important as your baby gets older because it's essential to their development. But, by 6 months of age, they will need more calories and nutrients than your breast milk can provide alone. So, by 6 months, it's time to begin introducing solid foods.

You should start to add solids slowly and patiently. Solid foods have such a variety of textures and tastes that your baby will need time to get used to them. While you're adding new foods, continue to breastfeed normally, as you always have.

In the very beginning, when you introduce your first solid food, it's recommended to breastfeed before the new food, instead of after.

It's also best to keep your breastfeeding routine the same for a while. This way, you will be able to maintain your breast milk supply

Start new foods one at a time and wait for 3 to 4 days between each new food before adding the next one so it will be easier for you to tell if your baby has a negative reaction to certain food. And, don't worry if your baby doesn't take to a particular food right away. Just try again a few days later. It's a learning process, and your child will catch on at their own pace.

Baby-Led Weaning

There are two different ways of introducing solid foods: Traditional weaning (starting with puree foods) and baby-led weaning. With baby-led weaning, babies join the family at the table and eat some of the same foods, as long as salt is limited and the food is offered in a safe way.

Some parents choose to use the baby-led weaning method of offering foods starting at 6 months and have the baby self-feed from the start. This method does not require food to be pureed or mashed. But there are specific guidelines that must be followed in order to do it correctly and safely.

Adding New Foods

If you will be using a traditional weaning method, here are some recommendations for the introduction of solid foods based on your baby's age. As every child is different, these are just guidelines; be sure to talk to your baby's health care provider for a more individualized plan. 

  • Birth to 6 months: Breast milk and/or infant formula are all your baby needs during the first 6 months. 
  • 6 to 7 months: You should continue to breastfeed as you normally have, and slowly begin introducing iron-rich foods. Many experts recommend starting with iron-fortified baby cereal made from single grains like rice, oatmeal, and barley because they're less likely to cause an allergic reaction. Remember that you should never give cereal (or any other foods, for that matter) through a bottle. You can, however, mix your breast milk or infant formula into the food as you'll want to keep it somewhat runny at first. Then, as your baby becomes accustomed to the flavor and texture, you can make it thicker. 
  • 6 to 8 months: You can add strained or mashed fruits and vegetables and soft meats between 6 and 8 months. When using jars of prepared baby food, always remove the amount of food you want from the jar and put it in a bowl for your baby. If you feed your baby directly from the jar, your baby's saliva will cause any left-over food to spoil. At this age, your child also should be able to begin using a sippy cup. So you can give them water. Breast milk should still be a major source of nutrition and hydration. So, continue to breastfeed your baby throughout the day. 
  • 7 to 9 months: Between 7 and 9 months, breastfeeding continues to be important and should make up at least half of your baby's daily calories. You also can add finger foods such as dry cereal, crackers, cooked vegetables, and soft fruits at this stage.
  • 9 to 12 months: During this stage, your baby can eat some of the same food that the rest of the family is eating such as meat, fish, and poultry—as long it's mashed, pureed, or finely chopped. Seeing other family members eat different foods also might entice your child to try new things. You should still be breastfeeding too, with your baby getting approximately 24 ounces of breast milk or formula each day. Cow's milk can be offered as an ingredient before 12 months, but not as a beverage.
  • After 1 year: By the time babies are 1 year old, they should be eating a wide variety of foods including the foods that are more likely to cause allergies such as eggs, fish, and peanut butter. Your baby also can have cow's milk as a beverage after their first birthday. Breastfeeding is still beneficial after a year. You can continue to breastfeed along with providing your baby with a healthy diet if you would like to.

Choking Risks

  • Candy
  • Chips
  • Hot dogs
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn
  • Raisins
  • Grapes (unless peeled and chopped)

Allergies

At one time, it was recommended to wait before introducing your baby to foods that are more likely to cause an allergy. It was believed that holding off on foods such as eggs, fish, and peanuts (including peanut butter) would help to prevent food allergies.

However, more recent studies suggest that it's better for the prevention of food allergies to introduce these foods earlier rather than later.

The exception to this guideline is when someone in your family, especially one of your other children, has a food allergy. In fact, one study found that there is almost a seven-fold increase in peanut allergy when an older sibling has a peanut allergy.

In that case, it's still recommended to wait before introducing that particular food to your baby. The best thing you can do is talk to your child's doctor. They will review your family history and advise you on the latest recommendations. 

Myths

When it comes to breastfeeding and solid foods, there are a number of myths that are perpetuated by well-meaning people. However, it's important to distinguish between myths and facts when deciding what is best for your baby. Here is an overview of three of the more common myths surrounding the introduction of solid foods.

Eating Frequently Is a Sign to Introduce Solids

Many people believe that if a baby eats more often than every 3 hours, they are ready for solid foods. But all babies are all different, which includes their eating habits and the size of their stomachs.

Most babies are eating an average of every 3 to 4 hours during the day by the time they're 6 months old. The amount of time a baby waits between feedings tells us nothing about whether or not the baby is ready for solids.

Delaying Introduction of Solids Creates Picky Eaters

Some parents worry that if they don't introduce solid foods early, it will be hard to wean their baby later. Still others believe that if you don't start solids early, the baby will be a picky eater and might refuse solids later.

There is no research to back this statement. It's actually quite the opposite. Babies do not need any solids before the age of 6 months. Breastfed babies are more likely to accept different types of foods compared to formula-fed babies because breast milk takes on the many different flavors of foods a mother has eaten.

Giving Cereal Helps Baby Sleep Through the Night

Getting your baby to sleep through the night is often a top concern for new parents. As a result, you might be tempted to believe the myth that a baby will sleep through the night if you give them cereal before they go to bed. But, cereal is solid food.

It's not healthy to give a baby solid food before they're ready. Also, a baby's stomach is about the size of a ping-pong ball—it can't accept that much food. Breastfed babies must breastfeed very often for this reason. 

As babies get older, they naturally sleep for longer periods of time, and as much as you crave sleep, try not to rush this process.

A Word From Verywell

It's always an exciting and fun phase in your baby's development to introduce solid foods. But if you're breastfeeding, there's no hurry this along. Your breast milk changes to meet the changing needs of your baby.

If you're worried about your baby's diet, or if you have any questions about breastfeeding or the introduction of solid foods, you should contact your child's pediatrician or certified lactation consultant for additional help. They can help you determine what the best approach is for your little one.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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