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Overview of Feeding of Newborns and Infants

By Deborah M. Consolini, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics;Staff Physician, Diagnostic Referral Division, Jefferson Medical College;Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children

A normal newborn has active rooting and sucking reflexes (see Three Common Reflexes of Newborns) and can start breastfeeding right away, so doctors recommend placing the newborn at the mother's breast immediately after birth. If this is not done, feedings are begun at least within 4 hours after birth. Formula feeding is also an option.

Most babies swallow air along with the milk. Babies usually cannot burp on their own, so a parent needs to help. Babies should be held upright, leaning against the parent's chest, with their head against the parent's shoulder, while the parent pats them gently on their back. The combination of patting and pressure against the shoulder usually leads to an audible burp, often accompanied by spitting up of a small amount of milk.

The time to start solid foods depends on the infant's needs and readiness, but many infants are ready to start solid foods by 6 months of age.

Feeding Problems

How much food a child consumes varies from day to day. These minor variations are common and should cause concern only if the child starts showing signs of an illness or has changes in growth, particularly the percentile for weight (see figure Weight and Length Charts for Infants).

Newborns who lose more than 5 to 7% of their birth weight in the first week have undernutrition. Newborns should return to their birth weight in about 2 weeks if they are breastfed and in about 10 days if they are formula-fed. After that, they should gain about 20 to 30 grams (1 ounce) each day for the first few months. Infants should weigh twice their birth weight by about 6 months of age.

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