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Nebraska Department of Education
Nutrition Services
301 Centennial Mall South
PO Box 94987
Lincoln, NE 68509-9487

(800) 731-2233 (Nebraska Only)
or (402) 471-2488
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Child & Adult Care Food Program

Child Caring Online - information about the Child and Adult Care Food Program

Tips on infant feeding

Good nutrition is essential to the rapid growth and development that occurs during a baby's first year. Providing babies with the right foods promotes good health and gives them the opportunity to enjoy new tastes and textures as they establish good eating habits. Positive and supportive feeding techniques allow babies to eat well and to develop healthy attitudes toward themselves and others.

Parents and child care providers face special challenges and opportunities during a baby's first year. The information that follows will help you make appropriate feeding decisions as the baby changes and develops.

Child care providers and parents should communicate frequently to coordinate what babies are being fed while in child care with what they are fed at home. By doing this, the best care for the babies can be assured.

Developmental Stages

During the first year, babies develop the ability to chew. As their digestive tracts mature, they become able to handle a wide variety of foods. At the same time, babies progress from needing to be fed toward feeding themselves. As babies mature, their food and feeding patterns must continually change.

A baby's developmental readiness determines which foods should be fed, what texture the foods should be and which feeding styles to use. All babies develop at their own rate. Although age and size often correspond with developmental readiness, these should not be used as sole considerations for deciding what and how to feed babies. It is important to be aware of a baby's individual development so that you know the appropriate food and texture to serve and the appropriate feeding style to use at each stage.

Each baby is an individual. Babies always do best if they are supported in progressing at their own rate.

Breast Feeding

Breast milk is the optimal food for babies. It is the only food a baby needs during at least the first four to six months of life and it continues to be an important source of nutrition for the first year. Mothers who are breast feeding their babies should be encouraged to continue to breast feed when returning to work, if they desire to do so. Babies who are breast fed may be bottle fed expressed breast milk while at day care; be breast fed by their mothers at the day care site, or receive infant formula while at day care.

Breast milk must be refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to give it to the baby. If frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator. Shake the bottle of breast milk to mix it before you give it to the baby. Warm the bottle by holding it under running water for a few minutes until the milk feels warm to the touch. Heating breast milk on a stove or in a microwave oven is not recommended.

Infant Formula

Iron-fortified infant formula is the best food for the baby when the baby is not being breast fed or when a supplement to breast feeding is needed.

Commercially prepared iron-fortified infant formula is specially formulated to have the right balance of nutrients and to be easily digested by the baby. For a baby who is not breast fed, iron-fortified infant formula is the only food a baby needs for at least the first four to six months of life, and it continues to be an important source of nutrients for the baby's first year.

Infant formula must be stored properly to keep it safe for the baby to consume. Canned formula must be refrigerated after opening. Use all of the formula out of one can before opening another. If opened formula has been left out of the refrigerator for more than one hour, throw it away.

Powdered formula is the least expensive and is easy to transport. Once reconstituted, handle the same way as liquid formula.

Warm a bottle by running hot tap water on it or let it sit in a pan of hot water. Do not use the microwave oven. The formula can get very hot even if the bottle only feels warm. Some babies have been badly burned.  Sprinkle a little formula on your wrist to see how hot it is. If it is too hot, run the bottle under cold tape water and then check it again.

Bottle Feeding

Always hold an infant while feeding from a bottle. Propping the bottle can cause ear infections. Also, you may not notice if the baby chokes.

Babies will take different amounts of breast milk or formula at different feedings. They know how much to take. You just need to learn what things the baby does to say "I'm hungry" or "I'm full." Be sure to throw out the leftovers in each bottle.

Always wash and rinse the bottle and nipple carefully before using them again. Use a bottle brush. Bottles shaped like bears and clown are difficult to clean. Use plain ones.

A little spitting up is normal. If you are worried about how much a baby is spitting up, you may be feeding too much at one time or you may need to try a different formula. Be sure to burp the baby gently several times during each feeding to prevent spitting up.

Baby bottle tooth decay can occur when babies are allowed to fall asleep with their bottles in their mouths. The production of saliva decreases when the baby falls asleep and the teeth are not cleansed properly. The sugar in the milk or juice can cause serious tooth decay. To prevent baby bottle tooth decay:

  • Feed only formula, breast milk, milk or water from a bottle.

  • Never put water sweetened with honey or sugar in a bottle.

  • Never put fruit juice, sodas, iced tea or other sweetened drinks in the bottle.

  • Offer the bottle only at feeding time, not at nap time.

  • Do not use a bottle of cold juice to soothe a teething baby's gums. Instead, offer a clean rattle or teething ring that has been cooled in the refrigerator.

Starting Solids

Wait until at least four months to start solids. The baby should be able to sit up and push food to the back of his mouth to swallow. If a baby cannot do these things, he is not ready for cereal. Never put cereal in the baby's bottle. It does not aid sleep and feeding solids too early can lead to overfeeding and/or allergies.

Foods with a single ingredient should be introduced, one at a time, in small amounts. If there are adverse reactions to the food, it can be eliminated and reintroduced when the baby is older and the digestive system is more developed and tolerant.

Infant cereal is usually the first food given. Vegetables and fruit are next. Then add meats and eggs (yolks only, until the baby is one year old), one at a time, to the infant's diet. After each new food is introduced, watch for signs of allergy.

Infants are being exposed to new tastes and textures. They may reject a new food at first because it is different. Try the food again. As with older children, it may take up to 10 tries to get a food accepted. Be careful not to convey your own food dislikes to the baby. Let the baby try it and decide.

Drinking from a Cup

Use a small plastic cup. Hold the cup yourself and let the baby sip from it. Don't fill the cup all the way. Be patient. Drinking from a cup is very different from sucking on a nipple.

Once the baby is proficient with the cup, there is no need for a bottle. A baby who has been slowly weaned from the bottle is usually ready to give it up. 

A Healthy Future

Your efforts to develop healthful eating habits in infants will be well rewarded. Starting out with good nutrition helps assure bright, healthy futures for children.

More on feeding infants


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