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Nutrition – what your baby needs

27 Nov, 2023

No matter how much new information researchers discover about infant nutrition, the fact remains that breast milk has always been, and will continue to be, the perfect way to feed babies. Breast milk contains all the nutrients, fatty acids, antibodies and immune properties babies need to grow. It also changes and adapts over time, adjusting its fat and nutritional balance to meet each baby’s individual demands for growth and maturity.

One myth about breast milk is that it can become too weak and not be sufficiently concentrated to support a baby’s growth. But this is never true. Although a mother’s supply can be reduced or insufficient in volume to fully satisfy her baby, the quality of breast milk is always ideal.

The current recommendations from health care professionals is that babies are only fed breast milk until they are six months of age.

Some of the benefits of breast milk

  • The iron in breast milk is more readily absorbed than formula milk
  • Overfeeding is less common; breastfed babies regulate their own intake of milk
  • Reduction in the likelihood of the child developing asthma, diabetes, ear infections and gastroenteritis
  • Breast milk is portable, always the right temperature, does not require preparation and sterilised equipment
  • Breast milk is free
  • Breastfeeding helps to build the emotional connection and bonding between a mother and her baby
  • Breastfeeding has less of an environmental impact. There is no packaging to dispose of, costly equipment or monetary transaction required
  • Breastfed babies do not become constipated
  • Mothers who breastfeed have a reduced incidence of breast and ovarian cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and osteoporosis as they age

Number of breastfeeds each day

There is no consistent number of breastfeeds each baby should have each day. Gestation, size, age, maturity, growth patterns and individual needs all determine how often babies need to feed. Demand feeding provides the best means of ensuring small babies obtain the amount of milk they need to grow.

  • Six or more, pale, wet nappies a day is the standard marker that a baby is having an adequate breast milk intake
  • Golden yellow, soft bowel motions are another sign. Breastfed babies do not need to have a bowel motion each and every day
  • Weight gain also needs to be steady and reflected in the percentile (growth) charts. Breastfed babies tend to gain a lot of weight in the first couple of months and then their weight plateaus. However, dropping from one percentile line to another is concerning. Babies tend to double their birth weight between four-six months and triple it by their first birthday
  • Failing to thrive, not reaching developmental milestones and not being satisfied between feeds are all signs that a baby’s milk intake may be inadequate

Close to six months of age, a baby’s iron and zinc stores which were built up during pregnancy start to deplete and need to be boosted through the addition of solid foods. Breast milk, though ideal for babies, is not high in iron - an important nutrient needed to support infant brain growth.

What foods will help my baby to grow?

From around six months of age, offer your baby pureed foods after they have had their milk feed. Avoid feeling rushed and take your time. Just like we do, babies have preferences for tastes they like and dislike. Share your own foods, give them small tastes, avoid making them “special” food and importantly, feed their mind as well as their tummy. Table conversation and sharing family meals helps to build a baby’s brain and social connection. There are also many feeding utensils available which incorporate educational designs to take the focus off the food and make feeding more engaging and fun for your baby.


  • Continue offering milk before your baby’s solid food until around eight months of age, when you can reverse this order.
  • Aim to breastfeed for as long as you and your baby are happy to do so. There are benefits for both mothers and their babies to breastfeed for up to two years and beyond.
  • Breast milk or formula should be the major source of your baby’s nutrition throughout the first year.
  • Milk contains more kilojoules than solid food.

Age 0-6 months:

  • Number of milk feeds per day: Around 6 per day – more for newborn babies
  • Number of solid feeds per day: None
  • Textures of solid food: No solids recommended

Age 6-9 months:

  • Number of milk feeds per day: 4-5 per day
  • Number of solid feeds per day: Start at 1 meal per day and then grade slowly up to 3
  • Textures of solid food: Mainly purees though some lumps

Age 9-12 months

  • Number of milk feeds per day: 3-4 per day
  • Number of solid feeds per day: 3 main meals and 2 snacks
  • Textures of solid food: Increasingly lumpy and textured foods which require chewing

Age From 12 months onwards

  • Number of milk feeds per day: 3-4 per day
  • Number of solid feeds per day: 3 main meals and 2 snacks
  • Textures of solid food: Cut up food which needs lots of chewing. Encourage self feeding

As babies drink less milk their need for solid food increases. However, milk and dairy foods still provide an important source of nutrition throughout childhood and across the lifespan.

Vegetables and legumes

  • All kinds of vegetables can be offered from the age of six months. Use as little water in the cooking process as possible. Fresh is best. Shop for vegetables which are heavy (which indicates more water and are therefore fresher), brightly coloured and have their stocks regularly replenished. Home grown vegetables offer a healthy alternative
  • Vegetables can be boiled, steamed or microwaved until they are soft and then pureed or sieved before serving. Mixing vegetables together unites their taste, making it difficult to determine which, if any are least palatable
  • Look for vegetables with varying colours as they each provide different nutritional benefits. Dark green, leafy, yellow, white and orange vegetables all contain different antioxidants
  • Offer vegetables every day; many of the nutrients they contain cannot be stored in the body and need replenishing daily


Fruit of all kinds can be offered from six months of age. Pureed, sieved and served either hot or cold, fruit is an ideal way to provide babies with important nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals. Fresh fruit such as ripe banana, sieved or grated apple/pear, paw paw, or avocado are all ideal. Babies don’t need fruit juice. This tends to be high in sugar and frequently leads to dental decay. Fresh fruit will supply sufficient nutrition and fibre. If you feel your baby is thirsty, extra breastfeeds or some cooled boiled water from a sipper cup or bottle may be useful.

As your baby grows, expand the variety of the fruits you are offering. Lumps can be tolerated from around eight months onwards. Cooking destroys some of the vitamins in fruits so where possible, aim for raw as long as they are soft enough to eat.

Cereals and grains, pasta and rice

Iron fortified rice cereal can be offered from six months onwards. Aim to gradually increase your baby’s dietary intake to include pastas, bread, barley, oats, other infant cereals, rye and cornflour. Wholegrain cereals contain more fibre and slightly better nutritional value.

Dairy foods

Only offer breast milk or formula until around nine months of age. Yoghurt, custard, cheese and dairy desserts can then be offered. Cow’s milk can also be used when preparing sauces such as white/cheese sauce; however, as a drink on its own it is not recommended.

Meat, fish and poultry

Beef, lamb, chicken and pork can be offered from around six months onwards. Meat needs to be cooked until it is very tender and only offered in small amounts. Red meat is an ideal source of iron and zinc as well as protein. Even small amounts of red meat help to boost iron absorption so it can be used by the body.

When can my baby chew?

  • Use your baby’s teeth as a guide to when to offer foods of increasing texture and consistency
  • Babies also use their gums to chew
  • Offering lumpy foods helps to support early speech development
  • Check the Australian Dental Association website
  • You can incorporate a teether into your baby’s daily routine. This will help them to practice chewing and assist them with their oral development between feeds


  • Where possible, source, buy cook and prepare your baby’s food yourself. Knowing what’s in their food gives you control and is cheaper than buying processed foods
  • Cooking batches of food and then freezing them until they’re required is very practical. As long as the food is correctly sealed and remains frozen until use, there is minimal nutrient loss
  • Offering small amounts more frequently aids digestion and avoids stomach distension. Babies have very small stomachs, which fill and empty quickly
  • Keep your baby’s meals simple. Avoid using salt (which overloads immature kidneys), sugar, honey, spices or additives which they don’t need
  • Textures, as well as tastes and flavours, colours and consistency need to be varied to avoid meal times from becoming boring
  • If you are using processed foods, read their labels and if you are unsure about an ingredient, don’t offer it. Check expiry dates, that cans and jars are intact, and that seals have not been tampered with
  • Growth slows in the second year of life and this is often reflected in a baby’s eating pattern. As energy demands increase, so does the appetite
  • Where possible, give the onus of eating control to your baby. Fussiness tends to peak in the second year of life when autonomy and independence are a primary developmental stage
  • You cannot control whether your child eats or even how much they eat. Your job is to provide, cook and then serve food to your child; whether they eat and the quantity they do is up to them
  • Cooled boiled water can be offered from an infant sipper cup with a spout
  • Meal times can be a great opportunity to support your baby’s learning. Developing skills in eating and mastery over utensils takes time and lots of practice

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