Infant feeding the first 6 months

If the number of books on infant feeding is anything to go by, there are literally thousands of approaches that are ‘guaranteed to work’. You may have even read about some of these in preparation for the birth of your baby.

Be mindful that not all approaches work for all babies, or even for you! You don’t need to blindly follow other people’s advice – trial and error is often the best way of finding out what works for you and your baby. Above all, trust your instincts.

Bottle or Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is definitely the healthiest way to feed your baby.

Nearly every mother can successfully breastfeed if they want to, but almost everyone needs help and support (from health professionals but also from partners and relatives)!

Did you know that bottlefed babies are more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital with chest infections, ear infections or diarrhoea and vomiting, when compared with exclusively breastfed babies? This is because breastmilk provides antibodies that help your baby fight germs, but also because you need to follow a strict hygiene when making up bottles.

Any amount of breastmilk will be beneficial to your baby.

See below for further advice on breastfeeding and bottle feeding.

Feeding your baby is not just about nutrition

Feeding times provide a wealth of opportunities for your baby to experience physical and emotional sensations. Eye contact is central to a baby’s emotional development. Feeding provides moments when intimate eye contact, accompanied by other soothing experience (gentle touch, being held, melodic voice) can happen. Babies can process and make sense of their world though these opportunities for contact. It is a chance to feel close to your baby and get to know them. Skin-to-skin contact is good at any time. It will help to comfort you and your baby over the first few days and weeks.

When it comes to eating, your baby should be in charge

This is called baby-led feeding (it's also known as "on-demand" or "responsive" feeding). Trying to impose a routine too early can cause a lot of problems such as poor/excessive weight gain, excessive crying and vomiting.

Your baby will be happier if you keep them near you and feed them whenever they’re hungry. If you are breastfeeding, this will also help your body to produce plenty of milk.

You should not wait until your baby is crying to feed him/her (as it will then become difficult to know if your baby is crying because he/she is hungry or for another reason altogether) – you need to learn how to read your baby’s ‘hunger signs’.

Signs that babies are ready for milk include:

  • starting to move about as they wake up (wriggling, restlessness)
  • moving their head around (rooting)
  • finding something to suck, usually their fingers or fist

If these signs are ignored, the baby may go back to sleep or become very distressed.

Feed your baby as often as they want

It's not necessary to time the feeds. In the beginning, it can seem that you're doing nothing but feeding, but gradually, you and your baby will get into a pattern of feeding (routine) which may change from time to time (for example during growth spurts).

Your baby may want to feed quite frequently, perhaps every hour and including at night: 8-12 times in 24hours is very normal. Their stomach is only the size of a cherry to start with, so they will get full up very quickly. They will begin to have longer feeds less often as their stomach grows.

If you are breastfeeding, it's particularly important to feed at night because this is when you produce more hormones (prolactin) to build up your milk supply.

Every feed will be different

Think of your appetite – sometimes you might just need a snack and other days a three-course meal. In the same way, your child might only need a quick feed or a much longer one. Sometimes a baby will want several short feeds clustered together. The important thing is to follow your baby’s signals, which takes time but you will start to recognise them. It does help to keep your child close and it might help for your baby to sleep in the same room with you at night as well.

Let your baby decide when they’ve had enough. Don't try to force them to finish a bottle.

Unfortunately, a big feed does not mean that your baby will go longer between feeds.

Is baby having enough milk?

You will know that your baby is having enough milk by checking your baby’s weight gain and the number of wet and dirty nappies.

Your baby should produce around six wet nappies a day when they are a few days old. Nappies should be soaked through with clear or pale yellow urine, or feel heavy.

For the first few days after birth, your baby will pass dark, sticky stools (known as meconium).

After the first week, your baby should pass pale yellow or yellowish brown stools (poo) the size of a £2 coin.

Your baby will usually be weighed at birth and again after around 5 and 10 days. Once feeding is established, healthy babies need to be weighed no more than once a month up to six months of age.

Breast feeding

Breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis; simply put, the more you breastfeed your baby, the more milk you will produce. If your child is attached properly, you are both comfortable and you are feeding her/him when she/he asks for it, then you will make plenty of milk.

Breastfeeding can also be used to comfort and calm babies, or when your breasts feel full, or when you just want to sit down and rest: It's impossible to over-feed or ‘spoil’ an exclusively breastfed baby, or for them to develop ‘bad habits’.

Bottle feeding

It is really important to use the correct methods when preparing a bottle of milk for your baby, to avoid many problems such as infections, under or overfeeding. Always carefully follow the manufacturers’ instructions but be aware that the amounts recommended will not suit every baby. Just because your baby is crying doesn’t necessarily mean they need a feed– being able to read your baby’s ‘hunger signs’ (see above) will avoid them being overfed – overfeeding in infancy is strongly associated with obesity in childhood and adulthood.

See guide to bottle feeding

Make sure your bottles and teats are sterilised.

When bottle feeding, sit your baby almost upright and keep the teat full of milk, otherwise your baby will take in air. If the teat becomes flattened while you're feeding, gently poke a clean finger into the corner of your baby's mouth to release the suction. If the teat gets blocked, replace it with another sterile teat.

Your baby may need short breaks during the feed and may need to burp sometimes. When your baby does not want any more feed, hold them upright and gently rub or pat their back to bring up any wind. This may only be a small amount.

Don't forget to throw away any unused formula or breast milk after you have finished feeding your baby.

If you choose to introduce infant formula after breastfeeding, it’s best to do it gradually, to give yourself time to adapt and to give your body time to reduce the amount of milk it makes. It usually helps to give the first few bottles when your baby is happy and relaxed – not when they're very hungry.

It may also help if someone other than you gives the first few feeds, so that your baby is not near you and smelling your breast milk. It can take your baby a little time to get used to the bottle, so keep trying and don’t force your baby to feed.

Which formula?

First milk: This is often described as suitable for newborns. It is based on the whey of cows' milk and is thought to be easier to digest than other types of infant formula. This should always be the first formula you give to your baby. Unless your midwife, health visitor or GP suggests otherwise, this is the only infant formula your baby needs. Your baby can stay on this formula when you start to introduce solid foods at around six months and continue on it throughout the first year.

There is no evidence to suggest that changing the brand of infant formula your baby drinks does any good or harm. However, if you think a particular brand of infant formula disagrees with your baby, try another. Your midwife or health visitor will be able to discuss this with you.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do only offer milk (breastmilk or first formula milk) to your baby
  • Do wait for signs that your baby is ready before offering solid foods – ideally this is not done before about 6 months of age
  • Do get help and support, and look after your own health
  • Do take a Vitamin D supplement if you are breastfeeding
  • Don’t leave an infant unattended while feeding
  • Don’t give juice/sugary foods or drinks other than milk (breastmilk or first formula milk)
  • Don’t give soya based formula for babies under 6 months (unless advised by a health professional)

Support and Information

Don’t be afraid to ask for support and information to help you with feeding. No problem is too small – if something is worrying you, the chances are that other parents/carers will have felt the same. Your midwife, health visitors or a breastfeeding counsellor to help you position your baby may help boost your confidence and improve feeding for you and your child.

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