Health Break | Published August 8, 2005 | Written by Susan Chase, MS, RN, IBCLC, CD (DONA), ICCE

Newborns And Their Diets

Newborns should breastfeed exclusively and as often as they want for their first six months if possible, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. After six months, breastfeeding should continue as often as the child wants, and “complementary foods” can be introduced in small amounts.

“Complementary foods” are foods given along with breast milk to meet baby’s needs for growth. Until 2 years of age, continue complementary foods, gradually increasing quantities and frequency, as the child gets older.

How do I know if my baby is ready for complementary foods?
Babies are ready for complementary food if they can sit up with support and have good head and neck control. Also, they’re ready if they have lost the “tongue thrust” reflex and are able to swallow solids. Other clues are that they are able to pick up objects with thumb and index finger, and they appear interested in family meals and reach for food.

Kinds of Foods needed by Older Breastfeeding Babies
Complementary foods are an addition to breast milk, not a replacement. Breast milk continues to provide 35-40 percent of infants’ total daily energy needs for 12-23 months. Begin with a few teaspoons of these foods two or three times daily for the 6 to 8 month old baby. By 9 to 11 months, complementary foods should be offered three or four times daily. By 12 to 24 months, they should be offered three to four times daily with one or two additional nutritious snacks. Other guidelines include:

  • Offer complementary foods after breastfeeding to avoid overfeeding with solids and decreasing mother’s milk supply.

  • Offer only one new food at a time.

  • Offer very small portions (a few teaspoons at a time).

  • Vary tastes and textures.

  • Avoid potential allergy-producing foods (nuts, eggs, cow’s milk protein products).

What Kinds of Foods Should I Offer?
Offer a variety of healthy foods that are easy to prepare. Vitamin-A rich fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken and fish are all good ideas. Avoid drinks such as soda or juice “drinks.” Check with your health care professional about the need for vitamin/mineral supplements or fortified products.

Ideas for Making Feeding Times a Time for Learning and Love
The caregiver of the child should feed infants and assist older children when they feed themselves. Watch for hunger cues and signs that they’re done eating. Feed slowly and patiently. Encourage children to eat but do not force them. Minimize distractions and provide a relaxed atmosphere for the meal.

There are many benefits to breastfeeding the older child. Breastfeeding and breast milk continue to provide a large portion of their nutritional needs. It provides continuous, ongoing immunological protection as baby becomes more and more exposed to germs. Breastfeeding provides comfort and security as baby explores his world. Babies have a physiological need to suck well into the second year. Breastfeeding helps mother and baby “reconnect” after separations due to employment or other reasons.

Breastfeeding the older baby can be challenging. Maintaining the milk supply can be hard, especially as mother leads a more active routine. Other problems women breastfeeding older babies experience include plugged ducts, mastitis and thrush.

Your health care professional and/or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can give advice on infant care and development issues that affect the breastfeeding relationship. An IBCLC can also identify potential infant problems, refer to primary care providers, and teach hand expression and/or use of breast pumps. For names of local IBCLCs refer to the International Lactation Consultant Association Web site at

Susan Chase, MS, RN, IBCLC, CD (DONA), ICCE, is a staff nurse on the Mother-Baby Unit at Mount Nittany Medical Center.