Within minutes of being born, a baby is ready for his first meal. The first few days his stomach is tiny — about the size of a blueberry on day one, expanding to the size of a large chicken egg by day ten — and he will take small but increasing amounts of breast milk or formula every two-to-three hours.
Signs he is hungry include rooting (turning his head toward a hand or a nipple, stroking his cheek), sucking, opening and closing his mouth, and bringing his hands to his mouth. Try to feed your baby when he is displaying these early cues, before he begins to fuss and cry — which is a late sign of hunger.
After a good meal, your baby can tell you he is full when his sucking begins to slow down or he tries to turn away from the breast or bottle. Full babies are relaxed and may fall asleep. Well-fed babies should have at least five wet diapers per day.
All babies have some gas in their bellies, much of it from swallowing air during feeding and crying. The best way to ward off gas is to make sure there is no air in the nipple while your baby is feeding from a bottle, and try your best to calm him when he cries.
To burp your baby, place him tummy-down over your shoulder or knee, and pat or rub his back to help the air come up. Note breastfed babies often don’t need burping, as they rarely swallow air while feeding.
YOUR BABY’S EARLY DIET
For the first few months, a baby’s diet should consist of only breast milk or formula. If you are bottle-feeding, offer about 2.5 ounces per pound of body weight each day. Don’t worry if you are breastfeeding and cannot measure exact amounts; your baby’s provider will monitor his weight to be sure his growth is on track. Babies are often hungrier than usual when experiencing growth spurts, which typically happen at about ten days, three weeks, and three and six months.
Introduce solid foods at about six months. Your baby is ready for solids when he can sit and hold his head up well in a feeding seat or a high chair, opens his mouth when food is offered with a spoon, and is able to move food from his mouth to the back of his throat instead of spitting it out. A traditional first “real food” is baby cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, but pureed vegetables, fruits or meats are fine as well.
INTRODUCING NEW FOODS
Allow your baby to try a new food every two-to-three days to ensure he can tolerate it. Most babies don’t have food allergies, but tell your provider if after eating a new food your baby has vomiting, diarrhea or a rash, which could be signs of an allergic reaction. Mealtime is a great way for you to connect with your baby bon appetit!
Pediatrician Elizabeth Shashaty, MD, is on staff at Children’s National Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, both in Washington, DC. She is also the mother of three young children.