A general feeding schedule can help parents and caregivers organize their day. However, feeding on demand — when the baby shows signs of being hungry — ensures that the baby gets enough food.
At 5 months old, a baby should get the majority of their nutrition from breastmilk or formula. Most babies do not require solids at this stage. Anyone considering starting a baby on solid food before they are 6 months old should talk to a pediatrician first.
At 5 months, breastmilk or formula is the most important ingredient in a healthful diet.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusively breastfeeding for about 6 months. However, for those who are unable or choose not to breastfeed, formula milk is available for babies of all ages.
Most 5-month-old babies should not be eating solids. Even when a baby shows signs of readiness for solids, this should only be a small portion of their diet. Always check with a pediatrician before starting a baby less than 6 months old on solids.
Parents and caregivers should not try to restrict a baby’s food intake, regardless of a baby’s growth. Instead, devise a loose schedule and then feed babies when they are hungry.
According to one source, this means getting to know a baby’s hunger cues, which might include licking their lips, rooting, or sucking hands.
A 2013 analysis of more than 10,000 children compared children whose parents or caregivers fed them on demand with those who received food according to a predetermined schedule.
The analysis found that parents and caregivers who followed a feeding schedule had higher confidence and better sleep. However, the study revealed that schedule-fed babies went on to do less well at school than demand-fed babies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most babies need to eat at least every 2–3 hours, which is about five to six times per day. At 5 months, some babies sleep through the night. Others still wake to feed.
Parents and caregivers who follow a schedule should try to remain flexible. A baby who is hungry an hour before snacktime needs to eat, just as a baby who is tired early should go to sleep.
Formula or breastmilk
Formula or breastmilk is the most important ingredient in a 5-month-old’s diet. According to Infant Nutrition and Feeding, babies should get five or more nursing sessions per day or 26 to 39 ounces (oz) of iron-fortified formula.
Some babies nurse more during growth spurts or when they do not feel well. Likewise, people who use a combination of formula and breastmilk may nurse slightly less often and give less formula.
Some research suggests that doing a “dream feed,” which involves the parent or caregiver feeding the baby relatively early in the evening before going to bed, helps babies sleep longer at night.
Do not give 5-month-old babies juice, cow’s milk, or water. Babies get water from formula or breastmilk. The World Health Organization (WHO) explain that giving babies water to drink increases the risk of diarrhea and may cause them to drink less breastmilk or formula.
Most parents and caregivers should breastfeed or formula-feed the baby for at least 6 months. The CDC indicate that a baby might be ready for solids a little earlier if:
- they have good control over their head
- they can sit on their own without support
- they lean forward or open their mouth when a caregiver offers food
The American Academy of Pediatrics warn against introducing solids before 4 months as this can lead to increased weight gain.
Most babies do not need solids at this age. Some people may use solids as a supplement to formula or breastmilk but never give a baby solids without talking to a pediatrician first.
According to the Sleep Foundation, most 5-month-olds take two to four naps a day. Some naps may be longer than others. For example, a baby might take a short early morning nap, then a longer nap late in the morning and in the mid-afternoon.
Some people feed the baby right before they go to bed, hoping this will help them sleep longer. Others use an eat, play, sleep schedule. Neither is “right.”
Instead, people should choose the approach that works for them. Some babies need to nurse just before sleep. Others are eager to fall asleep after a play session.
Some tips that can help shape a schedule around a baby’s eating and sleeping routines include:
- Be prepared to feed a baby when they awake. Expect babies to be particularly hungry and need more food after long naps and in the morning.
- Each person must consider which schedule works best for them and the people around them. Some people choose to play, then feed, then put the baby to sleep, while others adopt a feed, play, sleep approach.
- Know that a child’s napping needs may change when they are unwell, growing, or stressed. Similarly, many babies nurse for comfort during challenging times. Allowing a baby to nurse when they want, even if it is not feeding time, may help soothe them.
- Do not put solid foods in a bottle, including before naptime.
All babies and families are different. Most babies eventually develop a rhythm that parents and caregivers can slowly shape into a schedule.
While some people prefer a fairly strict schedule, others take a more relaxed approach. Neither approach is right.
As long as babies get enough food and eat every 2–4 hours, it is fine to experiment with different schedules.