On the top of the things I wish I knew before I had kids is a handy guide to their development, especially as it comes to feeding. My firstborn was such a challenge in this department, and I feel that the things I did not know of and the changes I did not anticipate made feeding much harder.
I created this post on baby and child feeding milestones to help you be better prepared for the sudden turns and deviations on the crazy ride of raising good eaters.
But please do not be alarmed when the next milestone comes a little earlier or later. Although kids develop following similar patterns, timing can be different because of their unique personalities, challenges, and circumstances.
But if you keep in mind the changes that are in the works, you can support your child the best. I hope that this post will relieve many of your worries, instead of adding to them. None of these milestones are set in stone, and I hope you will use them as a way to get ready for the next phase instead of adding pressure to the mealtimes.
What you will learn from this guide:
– When do upgrade textures
– What size of finger foods is the best for each stage
– How often to serve meals and snacks at different ages
– How to balance breast-feeding and solids
– Age appropriate feeding challenges and how to best respond to them.
A guide to baby and toddler feeding milestones
The best sources of nutrition for your baby are breast-feeding or formula. Your baby does not need nutrition from other sources and is an expert in sucking!
4 -6 Months
Your baby may be ready for solids, but do not rush to start. Most babies develop signs of readiness by around six months. In some cases, like reflux or a higher risk of developing peanut allergy, your doctor may recommend starting solids at this point, providing the baby is ready.
Around 6 months
Your baby is ready for single-ingredient purees and stick- or coin-shaped finger foods. Some babies need a couple more weeks and those who were born prematurely, have oral motor delays or aversions, may want to take an even slower approach.
Keep breast-feeding on demand or bottle feeding according to schedule. Your baby needs about 32 oz of formula daily.
Start introducing single ingredient finger foods 1-2 times daily. They can be stick or coin-shaped.
You can also give your baby smooth purees, but it is an optional step, more important for babies who are premature, need a consistent amount of calories due to growth issues or are not ready to self-feed.
Gradually start introducing potential allergens such as nuts, tree nuts, soy, dairy, wheat, eggs, fish, and seafood, unless your doctor recommends otherwise.
Check Stress Free Solids online program, showing you how exactly to start solids using a safe child-led way.
Serve a little bit of water at meals in a small open cup. Baby Cup is my favorite option, but any small light cup will do. Babies need lots of practice before they learn to do it independently, so be patient, offer lots of help and pour just a little bit of water in the cup.
Scan your family menu: which foods would be appropriate for your baby? Can you share the same meals with her? Maybe you need to cut back on salt and hot spices for a while. Participating in family meals is extremely valuable for babies, both from a nutritional and developmental perspective.
Around 7 months
By now you baby has tried some variety of simple finger foods and purees and is now ready for mixed foods.
Do not worry if there has not been much progress with self-feeding. It may take significantly longer for some babies to develop this skill.
Keep breastfeeding or formula feeding but experiment with a little more structure in breastfeeding instead of feeding only on demand. This will help your baby build up a better appetite for solids.
Offer your baby a mixture of finger foods and purees 2-3 times a day.
Purees may not be necessary especially if your baby is enjoying finger foods. But do not be afraid to spoon feed your baby from time to time, especially with iron and zinc rich purees.
Try preloading the spoon before giving it to the baby so she could learn to self-feed.
If your baby is eating smooth purees without any problem, upgrade them to a coarser texture. Mashing with a fork instead of pureeing is the easiest way to do that.
Do not worry if your baby does not like the Stage 3 type of foods, with lumps floating in otherwise smooth purees. Many babies find this texture is very confusing and are not ready for it before 12-24 months.
Your baby has probably developed a pincer grasp and can now pick up food with his fingers. You can start cutting the finger foods into dime-sized shapes to give your baby a chance to practice his new skill.
But it does not mean that you should stay away from larger pieces of finger foods. You can keep serving finger and coin-shaped finger foods so your baby can practice biting off smaller pieces and chew.
Keep breastfeeding and formula feeding but make sure it is mostly happening on schedule, every 3 hours or so, not to interfere with the baby’s appetite for solids. For the same reason, try offering both breast milk and formula AFTER solid feeds.
At this age, babies need most of their iron and zinc (link to iron-rich) to come from solid food choices, especially if you are breastfeeding.
You can now add one solid food snack if your baby is already eating three solid meals.
Your baby may start refusing the spoon, so it is a perfect time for her to learn to self-feed not only with her fingers but also utensils. Try Num Num learning prespoon – my favorite tool for practicing.
Your baby may be ready to start learning how to drink from a cup with a straw. If you are using a sippy cup, it is now time to slowly transition away from it.
By now you probably have a self-feeder and a cute albeit messy addition to your family meals.
Keep breastfeeding and bottle feeding on a schedule. At this point, your baby needs about 24 oz of breast milk or formula a day.
If your baby has been eating three solid meals and one solid snack daily, it may be time to introduce another solid snack.
Brace yourself for the toddler stage. Expect more fussy eating, lower appetite, food throwing, and erratic food preferences.
Keep offering water in an open cup and use a cup with a straw. If not breastfeeding, try serving formula in an open cup or a cup with a straw.
If you are breastfeeding, wonderful! Just make sure it is happening within the meal and snack structure most of the time, rather than on demand. For example, you may find that breastfeeding your baby after meals is an easy way to “top her up.”
Toddler – 12-24 months
Toddlers are still eaters in learning, but from about 12-18 months your little one will be able to handle a variety of textures and participate in 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily.
Here is where the fun ride begins! Toddlers are notorious for being lousy eaters. A strong drive for independence combined with a lower appetite and being wary of new foods can turn mealtimes into a challenge. But do not despair! With the correct strategies and chill attitude, your toddler will go through this developmentally appropriate phase faster.
You can now introduce cow’s milk as a main drink, your baby does not need formula anymore unless it is recommended by your pediatrician. Just make sure that you do not serve more than 2-3 servings of dairy a day.
It is also time to start weaning your baby off the bottle. If he is now drinking from an open cup and a cup with a straw, this job will be much easier for you.
If you are still breastfeeding, great! But try your best to stick to some structure. I know it is easier said than done :), I went through this three times. But toddlers are notorious for rather drinking than chewing their calories and using breast for comfort and just when they need a snuggle. And since breastmilk is high in calories, it lessens their interest in meals even further.
Family meals now become a cornerstone of your toddler’s nutrition (and your sanity). Below are links to some posts to help you plan meals in the easiest and consistent way.
Phew, this turned to be a long one! Thank you for making it to the end and I hope you found it useful to learn about your baby’s main feeding milestones and upcoming challenges.
But remember that it is a very rough guide. All babies develop at different speeds and have their unique challenges when it comes to feeding.
As a paediatric dietitian who has been working with hundreds of parents for more than 10 years, I created a complete, science based and straight-to-the point program on starting solids. We go through all of the transitions in a lot of detail, including corresponding videos of babies eating (and gagging), feeding schedules including breast milk/formula, ways to upgrade the texture of food and help your baby to self feed from early on. It only takes a couple of hours to go through the materials you need to start solids with your baby using a safe, baby led approach with both finger foods and purees. Check Stress-Free Solids here.
Please let me know in the comments, did any of the milestones/timings surprise you? Which fun (or not so fun) stage is your baby going through right now?
Starting solids the easy, safe and stress-free way!
Let me show you how to feed your baby using the mixed approach, so you can be guided by your baby and not by a rigid philosophy.