As infants grow and develop into young children, their nutritional needs change. As length and weight increases, so too does the need for calories and nutrients. Developmentally, infants also gradually gain the ability to self-feed and handle different foods. The transition from formula-only to solid food can often be challenging. Read more to learn about:
Complementary foods are foods introduced into an infant’s diet beginning at 6 months of age. At this age an infant requires more nutrients than what can be obtained by formula alone. Infants should still be fed formula after 6 months of age, but they will also need other foods.
At 6 months of age, an infant should be fed 4-5 meals per day, plus 1-2 snacks per day. A “meal” can be formula and/or other foods. Caregivers should pay attention to an infant’s hunger cues in order to decide how hungry he or she is. The amount of food needed will depend on the individual infant and on the nutrient density of the provided food.
As an infant gets older, he or she can start to eat a greater variety of foods:
It is best to provide infants with a range of complementary foods in order to meet nutrient needs. The following are some important food groups and the nutrients they provide to infants:
Infants and young children are growing rapidly and require a nutritionally adequate diet in order to avoid growth, health, and developmental delays. Infants will experience stunted growth if they do not receive adequate complementary foods, even if they are still being fed formula. A healthy variety of foods also prevents infant illness and infection.
The consistency of complementary foods is an important factor in infant and young child development. Thicker, more solid foods tend to contain more calories and nutrients. Proper timing of introducing “lumpy” foods can reduce the risk of a child developing feeding aversions later in life. As a rule of thumb, gradually increase the solidity of food with age. While more time-consuming than feeding semi-solid foods, it is important for optimal child development.
Sometimes it can be difficult to introduce new foods to an infant. Do not become discouraged if an infant refuses certain foods. Many children need to be exposed to a food several times before they will accept it. If an infant seems uninterested in foods, try to reduce distractions during feeding times. Encourage infants but do not force them to eat.
During illness, an infant’s appetite may be reduced. Provide soft, appetizing, favorite foods to an infant to encourage eating. Extra fluids are also necessary during illness. After an infant has recovered from illness, he or she will require more calories than usual, so increase feeding amount or frequency.
Weaning is the discontinuation of bottle-feeding by replacing infant formula with food. Weaning is a gradual process that requires patience on the part of caregivers.
NOTE: The World Health Organization does not have specific guidelines for weaning from infant formula. However, they do provide guidelines for weaning from breast milk and guidelines for introducing complimentary foods in non-breastfed children.
A child is ready to try drinking from a cup at about 6 months of age. Between 12 and 18 months of age a child can be completely weaned off a bottle. Early in the weaning process a child may be able to hold and drink from a cup, but they will not be able to consume enough calories from a cup alone.
A child is ready to be weaned from a bottle when they:
A child older than 12 months of age may drink whole cow milk. Do NOT give cow milk to children younger than 12 months of age. At first, mix whole cow milk with part formula to introduce the cows’ milk gradually. It is important to give whole cow milk because young children need the fat in whole milk for growth and development.
Weaning children from bottles allows them to develop important feeding skills that they will use as they grow up. When children learn to drink from open cups they also learn skills that encourage speech development. If children use bottles for too long, they can suffer from tooth decay or improper tooth development.
It is important not to wean an infant from a bottle too early. If a child is incapable of drinking from a cup, he or she will not be able to consume enough calories. If a child’s calorie intake drops, the child may fail to gain weight, which is a dangerous situation for a growing child.