A baby’s 6-month birthday marks an important transition as many infants are ready to start trying solids at this point.
While breast milk or formula should still form the core of a 6-month-old’s diet, some caregivers find that a child’s feeding schedule shifts as they begin eating purees and other solids.
Babies typically need to eat every 2–3 hours, five to six times during the day.
It is normal for a baby’s schedule to change from day to day, or for babies to eat different amounts of food each day.
Caregivers can follow a baby’s cues, even if they have established a schedule already. A parent or caregiver does not need to deny food to a baby just because it has already eaten.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advise that parents exclusively breastfeed infants for about 6 months if possible. By the time a baby hits their half birthday, they may be ready to try solids.
A baby may be ready for solids at 6 months if:
- they have good head control
- they can hold their head up for extended periods
- they can sit up with no or very little assistance
- they no longer have the tongue thrust reflect to push food out of the mouth with the tongue
- they show interest at mealtime and lean toward food if a caregiver offers it
At this age, breast milk or formula is still a baby’s most important form of nutrition and solids are an addition.
Not all 6-month-olds are ready for solids. If a baby shows no interest, a caregiver can wait a few weeks and try again.
Giving a baby 1–2 tablespoons of iron fortified cereal or fruit or vegetable purees per feeding can be a good place to start.
Gradually increasing this as the baby’s interest and appetite increase can follow.
To ensure a baby eats sufficient food, the adult can breastfeed or give a bottle before offering solids.
Caregivers can give solid food as a supplement each time they nurse the baby or give a bottle. Or, they can include the baby in family meals by giving solids at mealtime.
At 6 months of age, when an infant may begin to want solids, a caregiver can offer these just once per day.
Choosing a time of day when the caregiver is relaxed and not pressed for time, and the baby is not overly hungry, fussy, or tired often works best.
Once a baby is enjoying their once-a-day solids, the frequency can increase to two and then three times a day.
There is no “right” schedule, but caregivers should plan to increase the number of solids babies get gradually.
At 6 months, the goal is not to introduce new foods and eating habits. Similarly, there is no need to force a baby to eat solids or restrict new food if a baby indicates they want more.
Regardless of their size and eating habits, babies need access to an expanding variety of solid foods.
Most babies will need to try new foods several times before they feel comfortable eating them. It is fine to let a child eat at their own pace, in the way that feels right to them.
It is acceptable at this age for a baby to play with their food since this is a way of exploring new things.
Breast milk and formula
Breast milk or formula remains the most important food at 6 months of age. The easiest way to ensure a baby eats enough is to nurse or formula feed them on demand when they show signs of hunger.
Research supports the value of feeding on demand.
A longitudinal study of 10,419 children found better academic achievement and a four-point Intelligent Quotient (IQ) advantage at 8 years old among children whose caregivers fed them on demand.
However, the caregivers of these children got less sleep and had lower overall well-being.
These results may point to adults finding a happy medium, such as steadily shaping the baby’s preferred schedule into one that works for them.
In general, caregivers should plan to breastfeed babies 3 to 5 times per day, and sometimes more. However, babies vary greatly and every 3–4 hours is common, which can amount to up to eight times in 24 hours.
Some babies prefer cluster feedings, during which they nurse several times in a short period. Growing or sick babies may also nurse more frequently.
If a baby has formula, giving 24–32 ounces of iron fortified formula spread over five or six feeds per day is typical. While some babies sleep through the night at 6 months, others will still wake or want to feed.
A nighttime “dream feed” around the time caregivers retire for the evening may help babies sleep longer.
Babies do not need juice at 6 months. The extra calories can decrease a baby’s appetite, and the sugar may damage a child’s developing teeth. Soda and other drinks are not healthful for babies.
Babies can have water beginning at 6 months, or when caregivers introduce solids, whichever is later. Introducing a cup of water along with solid meals may be helpful.
Around 6 months old, some babies begin transitioning from three or four daily naps to two. The baby might take a midmorning nap and a midafternoon nap. At this age, most babies need 12–15 hours of sleep per day, and naps usually last 1–3 hours.
Caregivers are best finding a schedule that works for them and the child. Some children are used to falling asleep by nursing or with a bottle. Others happily doze off on their own.
A caregiver can follow the baby’s cues and work to adapt their needs to the family’s schedule slowly.
These feeding tips may help:
- Babies may be hungrier after waking from a long nap. This can be a good time to try solids after offering formula or breast milk to ease their initial hunger.
- There is no evidence that adding cereal to a bottle helps babies sleep longer. Doing so can increase their risk of choking.
- Babies must never have food without close supervision. nor have solids, even very thin purees, in bed.
Deciding what, when, and how to feed a baby can be challenging, especially during the transition to solids. As long as babies get regular breast milk or formula, caregivers do not need to rush the transition to solids or worry that babies are not eating enough.
Some babies take longer than others to embrace solids, while some will eagerly eat anything. The right schedule is one that works for the baby and family. This schedule may change over time which is also fine.