Merck Manual

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Overview of Feeding of Newborns and Infants


Deborah M. Consolini

, MD, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

Full review/revision Sep 2021 | Modified Sep 2022

Normal newborns have active reflexes that help them find the nipple and feed. These are the rooting and sucking reflexes. In the rooting reflex, when either side of their mouth or lip is stroked, newborns turn their head toward that side and open their mouth. This reflex enables newborns to find the nipple. In the sucking reflex, when an object (such as a pacifier) is placed in their mouth, newborns begin sucking immediately. These reflexes allow newborns to start breastfeeding Breastfeeding Breast milk is the ideal food for newborns. Although babies may be fed breast milk or formula, the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend exclusive... read more 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 Formula Feeding In the hospital, newborns are usually fed shortly after delivery, then ideally on demand thereafter. During the first week after birth, babies take ½ ounce to 2 ounces at a time, gradually increasing... read more 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.

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 Weight Physical growth refers to an increase in body size (length or height and weight) and in the size of organs. From birth to about age 1 or 2 years, children grow rapidly. After this rapid infant... read more (see figure Weight and Length Charts for Infants Weight and Length Charts for Infants from Birth to 24 Months of Age Weight and Length Charts for Infants from Birth to 24 Months of Age ).

Newborns normally lose a little weight right after birth, but those who lose more than 5 to 7% of their birth weight in the first week have undernutrition Undernutrition Undernutrition is a deficiency of calories or of one or more essential nutrients. Undernutrition may develop because people cannot obtain or prepare food, have a disorder that makes eating or... read more 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 5 months of age.

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