As a new parent, you’re absolutely overloaded with a big lifestyle change, new responsibilities, less sleep, and lots of new, conflicting information about how you should be tackling parenthood.
Of course, choosing which foods to feed your baby might be the most confusing of all!
It’s also one of the most crucial decisions to get right, as proper nutrition is a huge deal for growing little ones.
What are the different types of baby food you can choose from? And what do you really need to know about each one?
The main types of baby food your baby will need in the first two years are:
- Breastmilk or formula
- Cow’s milk or other milks
- Finger foods
Let’s take a look at all of them with basic age recommendations.
Breastmilk and formula
When baby first comes into the world, they don’t need much except some form of milk.
Whether your family chooses to use breast milk or formula, it is recommended to be the only source of nutrition (unless otherwise stated by a pediatrician) for the first six months of your child’s life.
From six months old to one year old, a breastfed baby can remain exclusively breastfed, or be slowly introduced to foods.
For formula fed babies, other sources of nutrition are recommended after the age of six months, though formula should still be the primary drink provided to your child.
Water in small quantities is okay for both formula and breastfed babies.
Breastfed babies can be exclusively breastfed for their first year of life.
You’ll likely hear the phrase “food before one is just for fun,” as eating at this age is more about textures and motor skill development than anything else.
After the first year, your child needs to be introduced to other sources of nutrition.
It is recommended to breastfeed until at least two years of age, though it is possible to breastfeed until your baby’s milk teeth begin to fall out.
Whether you should breastfeed or formula feed is a deeply personal decision. The truth is that both are perfectly fine ways to feed a baby — after all, “fed is best.”
Breastmilk caters directly to your baby’s needs, has a near perfect balance of vitamins and minerals and nutrients, and helps mothers bond with their babies.
It also has a slew of other benefits that can, quite literally, fill a book.
If it is possible for mothers to provide breast milk, whether through good old-fashioned breastfeeding, pumping, or even breast milk donation (yes, that is an option, call your local hospital for more information).
But, on the other hand, breastfeeding is time-consuming, difficult to learn at first, and can be hard on a mother’s mental health.
Postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, general anxiety or depression, or nursing aversion can be detrimental to some mothers. If a mother needs a certain medication that isn’t safe to pass through breast milk, an alternate solution is needed.
In these instances, it is better for mothers to use donated breast milk or formula.
Many parents seem to forget that it is completely reasonable to do a mixture of feedings as well.
You can breastfeed, pump and bottle feed, and formula feed your baby. It’s okay to offer up a combination of methods, depending on you and your baby’s immediate needs.
Truly, the choice is yours, and it is up to you to weigh the pros and cons of breast milk and formula for you and your family.
Cow’s milk or other milk options
After your baby is around a year old, most doctors recommend introducing other kinds of milk besides formula or breastmilk.
Though not as nutritionally balanced as formula and breastmilk, cow’s milk and other milks are a good way to get baby some calories while helping to ween them away from the breast or bottle.
Cow’s milk should only be introduced to babies, whether they’re formula or breastfed, after one year of age.
Cow’s milk has too much protein and not enough iron or vitamin C to be the main source of nutrition for an infant. It also provides a certain kind of fat that is ideal for calves, but not for human children.
However, assuming no allergy concerns, cow’s milk is a good supplement for 1-year-olds.
Many pediatricians recommend it to help baby get extra calories and bottle time.
Goat milk shares similar issues as cow’s milk for children under the age of one. It has too high protein content, and lacks the nutrients babies need.
Goat’s milk is okay to give in moderation after the age of one.
Oat, Soy, Almond, Coconut, and Other Nut Milks
Nut milk can be a good vegan solution to milk, but be sure you carefully read the nutrition label to ensure your toddler (aged 12 months or older) is getting all the key ingredients they need.
Nut milk tends to be lower in calories (as well as fats and proteins), which, while beneficial for some adults, is not good for young, growing bodies.
Make sure you provide calories (and fat and protein) through other means if you are giving nut milk.
Some nut milks are fortified specifically for toddlers, so look for those alternatives if you can.
Unsweetened soy milk is typically a better solution than nut milk, and more comparable to cow’s milk in value.
Some people have concerns over soy milk for boys due to estrogen levels.
If this is a concern of yours, pea milk is an alternative to soy milk that is also similar to cow’s milk when it comes to fats, proteins, and calorie amount.
Again, you can usually introduce these milks after the age of one year. They have good nutritional qualities but they can’t compete with formula and breastmilk, so they mainly act as supplements and are useful if your baby isn’t ready to give up the breast or bottle yet.
Sometime around the six month mark, your baby will be ready for something a little more solid than formula or breastmilk.
That’s where cereal comes in — and we’re not talking Lucky Charms!
Cereals that are intended for infants can first be introduced to babies as early as six months old.
Cereals can be introduced by themselves, but do so slowly, and with one type of cereal at a time, so that it is easy for you to pinpoint any allergic reactions your baby may have.
Oatmeal and barley cereals are best, followed by rice.
Rice cereals must be fed in moderation because they contain low levels of arsenic.
Rice absorbs arsenic from its environment ten times more efficiently than other grains, meaning that baby rice cereal has approximately six times more arsenic than other types of infant cereal.
Previous generations typically fed infant cereal alone.
However, most modern parents crush rice cereal into a powder and roll slippery fruits and vegetables in it (such as avocados, bananas, peaches, or mangos) to help those young hands hold on.
You can feed cereal by placing it on a tray or table in front of your baby, blend it and mix it with other foods, or lightly crush the cereal and use it to make other foods easier to hold onto.
Never add cereal (or any other foods) to a bottle.
While some parents claim that adding cereal to bottles will help infants sleep longer, the risk is never worth the reward.
It can cause asphyxiation, choking, or death.
Adding cereal to bottles also doubles or triples their total calorie intake in an unsafe way, which can lead to numerous issues.
The AAP, CDC, and almost all childcare experts agree that you should never add cereal to baby bottles.
Next up on baby’s list of foods to try are purees — a large category that covers lots of different types of foods.
Baby food, including purees, are categorized from stage one to stage four, making it easier for parents, pediatricians, and childcare providers to discuss food types for babies and toddlers.
Watery, pureed foods that consist of only one ingredient.
This stage was previously recommended for ages four to six months old.
Now, most pediatricians and professionals agree that babies who are less than six months old do not have a stomach that is developed enough to consume anything other than breast milk or formula.
Regardless, watery, single ingredient purees are considered stage one.
These foods are thicker than a puree and are mashed or strained, and may consist of one or more ingredients.
Stage two is generally intended for infants aged six months to nine months old.
Stage three consists of foods that are mushed, soft, or easily chewable.
There may be some chunks in this stage.
Again, this food can consist of one or more ingredients.
This stage is generally recommended for ages ten to twelve months old.
Stage 4 (Finger foods)
These foods can come straight from your plate.
Stage four consists of finger foods and soft, chewable, non-choking hazard foods.
This stage is generally recommended for ages twelve months and up, though parents who use baby-led weaning methods will start their children out at this stage whenever their child begins to show an interest in foods and try to “steal” foods from their parents’ plates.
Other Types of Purees
Even within a single stage of baby food, purees are available in an array of options.
They are available in pouches, jars, and homemade.
Pouch purees are the most convenient form of puree available.
You simply remove the cap and allow your child to hold and suck the puree from the easy to hold pouch.
There is minimal mess made, and no cleanup of the pouch, toss it when your baby is finished.
This option is generally the most expensive option, and the least environmentally friendly.
Pouch purees are best suited for busy parents who are always on the go.
Jar purees are the second most convenient form of puree on the market.
The puree is already made, you just need to spoon feed it to your baby.
After the baby has finished eating, clean the baby up. Then you may either rinse the jar for recycling, or throw it in the trash as is.
This option is the second most expensive option, and it is at the midway point for convenience, and eco-friendly properties.
(Learn about jars vs pouches here!)
The last option is homemade. Homemade may sound intimidating, but it is quicker and easier than many people assume.
Homemade purées are the least convenient, but they offer your baby the freshest foods, they give you full control of the blends, and they are significantly cheaper than pouch or jar purées.
Of course, you have to clean your blender, as well as your container when finished with homemade purées.
Homemade purées can be refrigerated for up to a week at a time, so you don’t have to have a lot of time to make them.
With that said, most homemade purées are made primarily by stay-at-home parents.
There are many options when it comes to feeding your baby.
The basic game plan is to start a newborn on pure breastmilk or formula, and then slowly start introducing basic food like cereals and stage 1 purees, then graduating from there.
Still, there are a lot of schools of thought on timelines, methods, and which foods are best at which age.
Weigh the pros and cons of each option, consider your situation and lifestyle, your needs, and your baby’s needs, and make a choice.
You are allowed to change your routine and try new things. You are also allowed to find a solution that works for you and stick to it.
Do what is best for you, and enjoy that precious new baby of yours!
For more, check out:
- The different types of diapers
- The different types of baby bottles
- The different types of bottle nipples
- The different types of diaper cream
Hope this helps!