Here at Ready. Set. Food!, we support all families as they decide on the best way to feed their little ones. Only you can decide the best feeding practice for your and your baby’s needs, and you should be confident in whichever option(s) you choose.
We've compiled this cheat sheet guide to feeding practices to help you make an informed decision.
Human Milk and Formula Feeding Practices
Breastfeeding provides a wealth of benefits for your little one. Breastmilk supplies the ideal balance of nutrients for baby's growth and development, and helps strengthen their immune system to fight off illnesses. It also helps you and your baby bond through the hormone oxytocin. Of course, breastfeeding can be tiring, and you'll need to feed baby consistently to maintain your milk supply.
Remember that breastfeeding is not for everyone, and you are not alone if you have difficulty with breastfeeding. If you have a low milk supply, our guide to increasing your supply may help. And if breastfeeding doesn't work out, that's ok – fed is best, no matter how you feed baby.
Some parents prefer to call the process of feeding baby human milk chestfeeding, because they don't want to refer to their chest as breasts. But chestfeeding and breastfeeding involve the same exact body process: once milk production is stimulated by hormones, milk flows through the body and comes out of milk ducts.
Exclusively breastfeeding means feeding your baby only breastmilk as a food source. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.
One concern with exclusive breastfeeding is that you'll still need to introduce allergens starting at 4-6 months of life, according to recent medical guidelines. How to do this if you want to exclusively breastfeed, and not introduce solids until after 6 months? Ready. Set. Food! Stage 1 and Stage 2 packets mix with a bottle of breastmilk, so it's easy to introduce allergens without starting solids earlier than your baby is ready. If you don't want to introduce a bottle, you can always use a supplemental nursing system to introduce Ready. Set. Food!
Exclusively pumping means feeding baby breastmilk without having them physically nurse. Instead, you pump all breastmilk for all milk feedings, and feed it to baby via a bottle.
This way, baby gets the immune-boosting benefits of breastmilk, but you have more flexibility with feeding. Anyone can feed baby the bottle, and baby won't experience any routine changes when you return to work outside the home.
Just like breastfeeding, though, exclusively pumping can be time-consuming and very tiring. It takes around 2 hours per day to pump all the milk baby needs, so keep this in mind.
Extended breastfeeding means continuing to feed baby breastmilk past one year of age, alongside the feeding of solids. You can breastfeed your little one for as long as you like, as long as both of you are happy, and as long as your little one is eating a variety of solids in their diet.
Considering this feeding practice? Our guide will help you weigh the pros and cons of extended breastfeeding.
Formula contains a balance of nutrients that's designed to mimic the nutrients in breastmilk as closely as possible. So, if you have chosen not to breastfeed for any reason, rest assured that baby is getting the nutrition they need through formula. The only difference between formula and breastmilk is that formula doesn't contain the immune-boosting properties that help protect babies from illnesses.
Our formula feeding FAQ has all the facts you need, including how much to give and how to know if baby is getting enough.
Bottle feeding refers to any feeding that happens via a bottle, whether that bottle contains breastmilk or formula.
If you're bottle-feeding breastmilk, it's best to use a slow-flow bottle nipple for all feedings (as that mimics the flow of milk from your body). This way, baby won't start to prefer the bottle over breastfeeding.
If you're bottle-feeding formula, start with a slow-flow nipple. But as your baby grows, you can switch to faster flows if they become impatient, take more than 25 minutes to finish a bottle, or seem to get hungry quickly without drinking much formula.
Supplementing means feeding your baby both breastmilk and formula. Sometimes, doctors will recommend this feeding practice if baby is having trouble gaining or maintaining weight. But you can choose to supplement at any time if baby doesn't seem to be getting enough to eat, your supply is low, or you are (or baby is) having difficulty breastfeeding.
You can even supplement to share the load of feeding – you can breastfeed, and then your partner can feed bottles of formula when you rest.
If you're supplementing, it's fine to mix breastmilk and formula in the same bottle, as long as you follow the steps for safe mixing. Find out how to safely mix breastmilk and formula in our linked article.
Feeding Practices For Starting Solids
- Spoon feeding
- Feeding purees first
- Baby-led weaning
- Purees and finger foods
Spoon feeding describes any approach to feeding baby where you give them food from a spoon. This doesn't just apply if you start with purees. Baby will likely need to eat from a spoon at some point, even if you're doing baby-led weaning. After all, some yummy foods like yogurt and oatmeal need to be eaten off a spoon!
Check out our guide to spoon feeding for the dos and don'ts of this feeding practice.
Feeding Purees First
In the puree-first approach to starting solids, you start to feed your baby the thinnest purees, then move to thicker and chunkier purees once baby is confidently eating the thin ones. Then, only once baby masters the thickest and chunkier purees do you start to introduce finger foods. One thing to keep in mind: if you're leading with purees, aim to introduce finger foods by 9 months of age or sooner. This way, baby will be able to learn munching and chewing skills, and won't become fearful of choking.
Baby-led weaning means serving baby finger foods from the beginning of starting solids, and letting baby pick them up to feed themself at their own pace. This helps baby build fine motor skills.
Baby chooses whether to eat the food in front of them, and has full control over how much they eat. This helps baby learn when they are hungry and when they are full, and gives baby the space to explore different flavors and textures.
If you choose the baby-led weaning approach, be sure to stick with softer foods prepared in baby-safe ways, to avoid choking hazards. Avoid hard foods and round foods, and avoid big, chunky pieces.
Some great choices for baby-led weaning are:
- Long, thin strips or slices of fruits and veggies (naturally soft or cooked soft)
- Berries cut into halves or quarters
- Crumbles of ground meat
- Shredded soft cheese
For more on baby-led weaning, check out this article from Whitney Crouch, RDN.
Purees And Finger Foods (the combined approach)
This combined approach involves giving purees and finger foods at the same time. Usually, parents who use this approach start with the thinnest purees. Then, they start to give both finger foods and thicker spoon foods (like thick purees, oatmeal, mashed foods and lumpy foods) once baby masters the thinnest purees.
This approach helps baby build confidence in munching and chewing, and in handling a variety of textures and flavors, without limiting baby to just finger foods.
Tips for all solids feeding approaches
No matter how you choose to introduce solids:
- Continue to feed breastmilk or formula as you start solids, and throughout baby's first year. Breastmilk and formula contain an ideal balance of nutrients that baby needs for growth.
- Introduce baby to a variety of healthy flavors, so baby will continue to enjoy healthy foods throughout life and eat adventurous
- Introduce a variety of baby-safe textures, so baby can build munching and chewing skills (and gain confidence in eating a variety of foods).
- Prioritize fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors.
- Stay away from choking hazards like hard foods, round foods, and big chunks.
- Don't give baby any foods with added sugar. U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines advise that babies don't need added sugar in their diet, as sugar may lead them to prefer unhealthy sweet foods later in life. There's no room in baby's diet for added sugar because baby needs a wealth of nutrients but can only eat so much.
- Don't give baby any added salt, either. Babies don't need extra sodium.
- Be sure to introduce common allergens, including peanut and egg, in baby-safe ways. Recent medical guidelines recommend introducing peanut and egg starting between 4-6 months of age. And for the best chance at food freedom, baby must eat these allergens consistently. Ready. Set. Food! is an easy way to introduce allergens daily. Our daily Stage 1 and Stage 2 Mix-Ins packets mix with breastmilk, formula, or food. Or, serve Ready. Set. Food! Baby Oatmeal or Stage 3 Mix-Ins to introduce allergens once your baby is consistently eating solids.
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