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New Parents’ Guide to Baby Feeding

16 min read | 16 January 2022

As for most big events in life, it is easier to prepare when you have prior knowledge and understanding. The same goes for pregnancy, childbirth and feeding your baby; education is the key.


All methods of baby feeding take mental and physical preparation. During the antenatal period, your healthcare provider should discuss with you both the different options and benefits of how to feed your baby.

This baby feeding guide will provide you and your partner with simple ways to prepare for the first year of your feeding journey, whether breastfeeding, formula feeding or mixed feeding.

In preparation for your baby’s feeding journey, it is helpful to know about hunger cues and what they mean. Babies display different cues to let you know how they feel and what they need, and you will learn your baby’s individual cues. Hunger cues will be displayed when your little one is getting hungry and wanting a feed soon. You will need to begin to prepare to feed your baby when you recognise early hunger cues, as crying is a late cue. 

Early hunger cues mean ‘I’m ready for a feed’, these include:
  • Turning their head from side to side (rooting)

  • Opening their mouth

  • Sucking on their hand

  • Becoming more alert and active

Late hunger cues mean ‘I’m really hungry, calm me then feed me’, these include:
  • Crying

  • Agitation

  • A reddened face

If your baby is displaying a late hunger cue, you need to calm them down before attempting to feed. Give your little one a cuddle or skin to skin to help them relax before offering breast or bottle. Feeding to your baby’s cues satisfies their thirst and hunger, but also lets them know you are there when he/she needs you. Having your partners support for whichever feeding method you both choose is helpful, as feeding is a team effort. Partner support can be through tasks such as; burping and settling baby, nappy changes, bath time, taking baby for a walk or giving baby a bottle.

The Developmental Stages of Feeding

There are many motor and behavioural changes in your baby that play an important part in the development of their feeding and eating habits. Recognising body language, facial expressions and behaviour can assist you in feeding. After birth, your baby will often instinctively move towards the breast and begin showing signs they want a feed. Sucking is observed in the womb and from birth, your baby will bring their hand to their mouth in preparation to suck, as well as their tongue moving up and down. Your baby has a suck, swallow, breathe reflex allowing them to feed efficiently from birth.

Around 2-3 months old

Your little one starts holding objects and putting them in their mouth.

From 4-5 months old

Your baby will start sitting with some support. Babies need to sit independently before commencing solids, normally around 6 months old. This is also when their gag response decreases as they prepare to eat food.

From 6-9 months old

Babies can grasp with their thumb and pointing finger, hold food in their hands and may begin trying to feed themselves with a spoon.

From 6-12 months old

Your baby will start to have teeth cut through which helps to chew most soft lumps and keep food in their mouth.

From 12 months old

Your little one will recognise the sight, smell and taste of food and may begin to communicate with you what they want.

Every baby will develop at different stages, so remember to be guided by your baby, trust your parental instincts and ask your child health nurse or GP if you have any questions or concerns.

How Often Will Your Baby Feed?

The first 12 months of life are very individual and depend on a few factors; their age, weight, wellbeing and growth restriction. Being aware of the size of your baby’s stomach at birth and how it grows, impacts how much milk they need and how often they will feed. At birth, your baby’s stomach is the size of a cherry, then around day 3 the size of a strawberry and slowly increases to the similar size of a kiwi fruit at 3-4 weeks old. The size of their stomach is an important factor to consider in those early days when they are feeding, as your little one doesn’t need much breastmilk or formula to be satisfied but needs frequent feeds.

As the days and weeks pass and their stomach expands, they will slowly begin to consume more milk according to the size of their stomach. As a newborn, your baby will normally feed every 2-3 hours (8-12 times in 24 hours) with this stretching out to 4 hourly around 6 weeks old. Around 3-6 months old your little one may feed 6-8 times in 24 hours, with this decreasing to 4 milk feeds per day at 12 months old as they will then be having solids. Watch out for your baby’s feeding cues and be guided by them and their needs at the time.

Breastfeeding

If you are preparing to breastfeed, it is a great idea to learn about the process of your body producing breast milk, starting with colostrum. Colostrum is a thick yellow/clear looking substance that your body makes from mid to late pregnancy and is present in your breasts following birth for around 3 days. Colostrum is nutrient-dense and referred to as ‘liquid gold’, therefore in the first few days after birth, your baby only needs small amounts to be satisfied. Your body increases colostrum production after birth due to hormonal changes and your baby suckling at the breast.

Your milk then comes in and fills your breasts around day 3 or 4 after your baby is born, and your breasts will become very firm. You may then notice a change in your baby’s suck and swallow pattern while breastfeeding, your baby will take deeper slower sucks and you may also hear gulping and swallowing of your milk. Maintaining breast milk supply is reliant on frequent suckling, removal of your breast milk and regulation of hormones. Your breast milk supply will depend on the demand and how often your little one is feeding. The more milk that is removed from your breast, the more breast milk you will produce, therefore you make exactly the right amount of milk for your baby and their appetite/needs. Having a trusted care provider and a lactation consultant can also provide help and support to you on your breastfeeding journey.

Formula Feeding

As parents, you may plan to formula feed, mix feed with breastmilk and formula or plan to breastfeed but for different reasons, end up using formula. Being educated on formula feeding is important, even if you don’t plan on formula feeding, it is useful to be aware of the information in case your baby needs formula. Due to your baby’s small stomach size at birth and in those first few weeks, follow your baby’s hunger cues so you don’t overfeed. Overfeeding may result in tummy pains, vomiting or constipation for your little one. To avoid this, your midwife will explain to you and your partner the safest way to feed your baby formula in those early days and guide you on how much they should be having. This will consist of very small amounts of formula for the first day and increasing in volume every day depending on baby’s weight and if you are exclusively formula feeding or mix feeding.

When preparing to formula feed there are a few things to consider before your baby arrives, such as:
  • Purchasing bottle-feeding equipment

  • Deciding which brand of formula you want to use

  • Knowing how to prepare formula safely and how to clean the equipment.

Cleaning and sterilising bottle-feeding equipment will prevent your baby from getting sick. The current recommendation is to clean bottles after every feed with hot soapy water and sterilise them every 24 hours until your baby is 12 months old. If you are unsure, check with your healthcare provider.

Bottle Feeding

This can involve you using expressed breast milk or formula to feed your little one. The equipment you need for bottle feeding includes bottles, teats and sterilising equipment. Your baby will adapt to whatever type of bottles and teats you use, with a slow flow teat recommended for newborns. When using a bottle to feed your baby, safely warming the milk can be done several ways. You can give milk at room temperature, however, most babies prefer it warmed, and it is also easier for them to digest. Never heat a bottle of formula or breastmilk in the microwave as it creates dangerous hot spots in the milk. Breastmilk and formula only needs to be lukewarm for your baby, never hot

Three ways to warm up a bottle:
  • Pour warm water into a bowl or jug and place bottle of formula or breastmilk in the bowl to warm, for no longer than 10 mins

  • A bottle warmer is a convenient way to heat milk to the perfect temperature and can be used for formula or breastmilk

  • If using the formula, you can boil water, let it cool down to room temperature and then mix in the formula powder

After warming the bottle, gently swirl the bottle to evenly mix the warmed milk. Ensure the milk is the right temperature by testing a few drops on your inner wrist.

Once you have the correct amount of milk and it is safely warmed, it’s time to feed your baby.

How to bottle feed your baby:
  • Cuddle your baby close in your arms, cradled on a slight incline.

  • Put the teat against your baby’s lips and wait until they open their mouth and start to suck.

  • Keep the bottle on an angle while they are feeding so there is always milk in the teat.

  • When baby stops sucking, or about halfway through the bottle, remove the teat from their mouth and burp your baby to assist digestion.

  • Once baby has burped, you can continue the feed.

Feeding Refusal

Sometimes your baby can refuse the bottle or breast for many different reasons. Feeding refusal can appear as they purse their lips together and don’t open their mouth, turning their head away and just not wanting to feed. What you choose to do if your baby refuses to feed is very personal, and also depends on when their last feed was.

Tips if your baby refuses a feed:
  • Work out if they are actually hungry by observing their body language and cues

  • If baby is crying, do they have

    tummy pain

    or just need a cuddle? Once you have burped and cuddled, reassess their cues

  • Take baby into another room that is quiet without any distractions and attempt again to offer them the bottle or breast

  • If you are bottle-feeding, try someone else offering the bottle

  • If you are certain they are hungry, be persistent and just keep offering until they take it.

Introducing Solids

After 6 months of age (once baby shows signs of being ready) you may begin to introduce solids into your baby’s diet, in conjunction with breastfeeding or formula feeding. Your baby will still need breastmilk or formula for at least the first 12 months of life. Breastmilk or formula is still the priority in terms of nourishment, over solids, until baby is over 1 year old. When your baby has good head and neck strength and begins to show signs of being ready to eat solids you can start to introduce soft foods to them. 

Signs they are ready for solids after 6 months may include; interested in food, reaching out for your food or opening their mouth when you offer them food. Eating solids will provide your little one with extra iron and nutrients they need for growth and development.

It is best to offer solids when they are happy and relaxed, starting with small amounts after a breastfeed or bottle and slowly increasing the amount. From 6 months of age, you can also start to offer your baby cooled boiled water in a cup so they can start practising using a cup, although they will still rely on breastmilk or formula for their main hydration. Some foods to avoid until your baby is over 12 months old include; honey, raw egg, full-fat cow’s milk, hard food or any processed foods high in fat, sugar or salt. Seek further advice from your child health nurse, GP or paediatrician regarding introducing solids or food allergies.

Baby Feeding Schedule

Some parents will form a routine and schedule with feeding their baby, and other parents don’t. It is an individual choice with what works for both of you and your lifestyle. You can still be flexible with baby’s feeding schedule but also follow a rhythm for the day. For example, you may implement a wake, nappy change, feed, play, feed, sleep schedule throughout the day, or in the evening you and your partner might have a bedtime routine of bath, book, feed and sleep. Some parents put their baby in a sleepsuit or play white noise when it is time to sleep to keep things consistent. 

These rhythms or routines during the day or night are a way for your baby to know what to expect next. You might choose to be flexible and responsive to your baby’s sleep and feeding cues, or you and your partner might choose to stick to exact feeding and sleeping times.

Remember that sometimes there may be a reason why your baby is wanting to be fed more regularly, such as growth spurts, sickness or for comfort, so always take note of their hunger cues, even if it isn’t the time you were going to feed them. Your baby’s schedule is something that both parents need to discuss and review as time goes on and your baby’s needs change.

Blog article is written by midwife Aliza Carr from Bumpnbub. All advice is general advice only and does not replace medical advice.

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