Infancy is a time of rapid growth and development. Offering an infant a sufficient amount of calories is important to help prevent problems related to malnutrition. Calorie requirements and feeding guidelines for infants are just estimates, though, since each baby is different. Infants should be fed on demand when they are hungry and will likely stop eating when they feel full.
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The American Dietetic Association recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively the first six months of life. Infant formula may be offered in place of breast milk, if desired. After 6 months of age, solid foods can be introduced in addition to breast milk or formula. Typically infant rice cereals are offered first; then when the infant is ready, strained fruits and vegetables may be introduced one at a time. Around 8 months of age, strained meats and finger foods may be introduced. Between 8 and 12 months, different varieties of foods can be offered while avoiding cow’s milk, honey, citrus fruits, nuts, peanut butter, whole eggs and seafood until 1 year of age, according to the Nemours Foundation.
Although calorie recommendations are available for infants, counting calories is discouraged since each infant grows at a different pace and has different calorie requirements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide growth charts to help keep track of an infant’s growth pattern and compare weight, height and head circumference with other infants the same age. If an infant grows and develops at an appropriate pace, he is likely consuming a sufficient amount of calories.
Calorie requirements may be lower for breastfed babies if the breast milk is completely digested and absorbed, according to Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. The Merck Online Medical Library also provides infant calorie requirements of 50 to 55 calories per pound of body weight per day for 0 to 6 months of age and 45 calories per pound per day for 12-month-old infants.
A newborn will likely need to nurse eight to 12 times per day, or every two to four hours, according to the National Institutes of Health. By 4 months of age, breast milk can be offered four to six times per day; by six to eight months of age, an infant may breastfeed three to five times per day; and by eight to 12 months, three to four times per day. Solid foods should be offered in addition to breast milk starting at 6 months of age.
For infants consuming infant formula, the National Institutes of Health recommend newborns consume 2 to 3 ounces of formula at every feeding and 16 to 24 ounces total per day, increasing to 28 to 45 ounces per day at 4 to 6 months of age. As with breast milk, formula can be offered three to five times per day at 6 to 8 months of age and three to four times per day at 8 to 12 months of age. Solid foods should be offered in addition to infant formula starting at 6 months of age.