Feeding Babies & Toddlers
A healthy diet and feeding schedule is essential to the well being of babies and toddlers, but new parents may feel a bit intimidated when figuring out feedings.
While starting out with breast milk or formula feeding is a given, baby’s diet will quickly progress to include other foods as well. Choosing the best bottles, sippy cups, and eating utensils is also an important part of establishing a healthy feeding routine. We know, it can feel like a lot of information to take in! Studying up on best practices and learning about your options can help you feel more prepared and educate you on the components of your baby or toddler’s healthy diet.
The Gear You’ll Need
- Best Baby Bottle: Even if you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby, you will likely eventually want or need some bottles around for pumping or offering water or juice when appropriate. There are many types of bottles to choose from, so check out our Bottle FAQ to choose the best bottles for your baby.
- Best Sippy Cups: Eventually, transitioning away from bottles with nipples is a necessary step in order to maintain your child’s healthy oral development. Sippy cups are a helpful intermediate step, but there are several types to choose from, and some are associated with safety concerns — our Sippy Cup Safety Guide has more information on these issues.
- Best High Chair / Booster seat: Keeping your baby or toddler safely in place at mealtime is pretty much essential if you ever want to be able to sit and enjoy your dinner! High chairs and booster seats offer comfortable, safe, age-appropriate seating for little ones that’s convenient for parents. Many options are convertible and can adjust as your baby grows, helping you to avoid additional spending. And where space is an issue, there are plenty of smartly designed foldable high chairs on the market.
- Best Baby Spoons: Big metal flatware isn’t comfortable for your baby, nor is it ideal for their oral development. Look to plastic, silicone, or wooden spoons designed for babies and toddlers instead.
- Bibs: They’re not foolproof, of course, but larger bibs can catch a good majority of spills and drips that happen during mealtime. Bibs are easy to wash and usually not particularly expensive, and they’re worth having to prevent stains on clothes, which are far more costly to replace.
Optional, But Helpful
- Best Baby Food Maker (or food processor): Baby food mostly consists of very simple fruit and vegetable purees. If you’d like to make your own baby food, it can be done with a baby food maker or a food processor. The best baby food makers have proprietary storage and warming systems, essentially acting as a one-stop shop for baby food manufacturing. That said, if you’re a natural cook who already has a decent food processor on hand, you may not actually want to bother investing in this appliance, since your food processor can do the same thing. There are many baby food recipes available online; be sure to choose foods that are appropriate for babies, and to always follow proper food safety protocol with your ingredients of choice.
- Bottle sterilizer: Hand-sterilizing baby’s bottles can be something of a chore, which is why many parents rely on a bottle sterilizer to do the dirty work. Sterilizers may be standalone appliances, but some picks use heat from your microwave to complete the cleaning process. If shelling out for a one trick pony isn’t in your budget, you’ll be happy to know that many bottles are top rack dishwasher safe, and the heated drying cycle perform the same sterilization. If you’d rather go old-school, boiling your bottles to sterilize them is also an option.
The Bottle F.A.Q.(Answered by Parents)
What types of bottles do I have to choose from?
There are several types of bottle on the market, which can make it tough for new parents to understand what they need.
- Standard: These are typical and straightforward, the kind of bottle most imagine when thinking of a baby bottle. They’re available in several sizes, and may be made of plastic, glass, silicone, or stainless steel.
- Angled-neck: The neck of these bottles is angled in order to prevent baby from swallowing air and getting gas. They’re typically seen in plastic and glass, and their unusual shape can make cleaning a bit difficult.
- Disposable liner: Easy to clean, these are often compatible with breast pump storage systems. These bottles consist of a hard outer cylinder which holds a pouch of milk that can be removed when baby is done. They create significantly more waste than other bottles, and the design still requires cleaning.
- Wide-neck: Designed to mimic the feel of breastfeeding, these bottles are shorter and wider with nipples to match. They’re good for babies who need to transition back and forth between bottle and breast, as they help to avoid confusion. They’re usually seen in glass, plastic, and silicone.
- Vented: Some babies are especially prone to gas and colic, and vented bottles incorporate a tube which prevents air buildup in bottles and nipples. They’re typically plastic or glass, and while they’re effective, vents can also be very hard to clean.
What bottle material is best?
Plastic, glass, silicone, and stainless steel all make fine materials for your baby or toddler’s bottle, leaving the decision mostly up to your preference. Each has a few pros and cons.
- Plastic: Cheaper, easier to clean, but less durable
- Stainless steel: Well-insulated, durable, but costly and can’t see what’s inside at a glance
- Glass: Non-toxic, most modern picks are shock and heat proof, tough to break, some come with silicone jackets for extra security, rarely need replacing, but a break could be messy and dangerous
- Silicone: Flexible, easy to clean, can resist high heat and cold, but may discolor in dishwasher, can be more expensive, must be replaced if cracking or flaking
How do I choose the correct nipples?
- Nipple materials: While latex nipples are traditional, they deteriorate faster, can feel less natural, and may trigger allergies in some babies. Silicone nipples are firmer and longer-lasting, but will still require occasional replacement.
- Nipple stages: Available in stages 1, 2, and 3, nipples have graduated flow to make sure baby isn’t getting too much milk at once. Stage 1 has a low flow that’s appropriate for newborns. Around 2-3 months, use of stage 2 nipples can start. Around six months, or when you notice baby straining to drink more from a stage 2 nipple, a stage 3 can be introduced.
- Nipple types: Traditional bell-shaped nipples work, but aren’t as healthy for baby’s oral development as orthodontic nipples with a rounded top and flat underside. Natural or wide, flat-topped nipples mimic the natural shape of mother’s breast, and are often used with wide neck bottles. Anti-vacuum nipples are vented to reduce air swallowing, preventing colic and gas. Finally, multi-flow nipples can be adjusted to increase or decrease liquid flow, usually between stages 1 and 2.
Sippy Cups: Are They Safe?
If you’re wondering if sippy cups are safe for kids, the short answer is absolutely, as long as they’re used correctly. They’re a transitional tool to help kids learn to drink from regular cups while preventing a mess for parents, and while there are issues associated with overuse of some sippy cup types, being aware of them goes a long way in preventing them from happening.
- Hard spouted: This refers to traditional sippy cups with hard plastic lids and spouts. While these cups are fine in moderation, constant use is bad for your toddler’s oral development, impacting healthy tongue positioning and mature swallow reflex. These spouts also pass liquid over the front teeth, which can lead to tooth decay.
- Soft spouted: These cups replace hard spouts with flexible silicone, which is marginally better for baby’s oral development, but still passes liquid over the front teeth.
- Spoutless: These are most like a real cup, and are thus best for oral development; they’re also best at helping liquid bypass the front teeth.
Spoutless sippy cups tend to have the fewest issues overall, and picks with handles are some of the best sippy cups for toddlers who are beginning to transition away from bottles.
The final hazard to watch for? Mold and mildew, which can collect in tiny crevices, as these cups are tough to keep clean and dry. If it appears, it’s time to throw the cup away.
Are They Ready For Solids?
For the first six months of your baby’s life, breast milk or formula will be their exclusive diet. At that half year mark, you can safely begin introducing some new foods into their routine in the form of basic rice cereals and simple purees. (There are plenty of organic baby food options if ‘clean eating’ is important for you.) First-time parents may find this transition a little confusing, wanting to be sure they’re offering baby healthy foods they can handle and that it’s safe to attempt solids.
Wondering if baby is ready for solid foods? If they’re able to sit up without much support (or any at all), can hold their head up and control its movement, and will respond to the offering of food by opening their mouth and leaning toward you, they’re likely ready to try solids.
If you’ve decided to make your own baby food, some of the best purees to start out with are gentle fruits and veggies. Squash, beets, pears, apples, carrots, and peas are all common baby foods, though your baby may make their preferences known quickly! Many parents prefer to choose organic fruits and vegetables for this process, bypassing any contact with pesticides or chemicals.
Our final word on the matter: Introduce new foods slowly, giving a grace period to see how your little one reacts. When many new foods are introduced at once, it can be tough to pinpoint the culprit associated with a food allergy or intolerance.