Feeding your baby: Advice for new parents

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource explores how feeding times are an opportunity to connect with your baby and support their mental health and wellbeing. It acknowledges that feeding can be difficult for a lot of parents and infants, and explains why it’s important to seek help if you’re experiencing difficulties. It has been developed with the guidance of family members with lived experience, practitioners and researchers.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. This resource uses the terms ‘mother’ and ‘birthing parent’ to acknowledge female, non-binary and transgender parents who have given birth. The terms ‘mother’ and ‘parent’ include the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

This resource is designed to support all individuals, regardless of their sexuality, relationship status or gender identity.

Feeding your baby is most importantly about giving them the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. But, like most aspects of caring for your newborn, feeding times can be wonderful opportunities to interact and bond with your baby.

There are lots of websites providing information for parents about breastfeeding/chestfeeding your baby, bottle-feeding, and how to start feeding your baby solids (you’ll find links to a few at the end of this resource). This fact sheet is about how to make feeding an enjoyable experience for you and your baby. It explains how interactions at feeding times can boost your baby’s social and emotional wellbeing, and why it’s important to get support if you or your baby are finding feeding difficult.

Feeding your baby

Infants need milk (breast/chest or formula) to grow and thrive. Many mothers/birthing parents can breastfeed/chestfeed if they choose to and have the right information, support and care. Some may choose, or need, to bottle-feed expressed breastmilk/chestmilk or infant formula, which is the only safe alternative at this early age.

Australian guidelines recommend breastfeeding/chestfeeding for the first 12 months of your baby’s life. But for many parents this isn’t possible and the choices around feeding your baby can feel difficult and emotionally challenging. Remember that as long as your baby is fed, gaining weight and mostly content, it is no one else’s business which feeding option you have chosen.

Babies can’t digest foods other than milk until they are ready (usually around 4–6 months of age). This is the time when you can start introducing ‘solid’ foods, as you continue breastfeeding/chestfeeding or bottle-feeding. If you’re unsure about what is best for your child, speak to your general practitioner (GP) or health professional. You can also find out more about starting to feed your baby solids on the Raising Children Network.

To learn more about the role of a GP, watch this video.

‘Feeding your baby can be scary or intimidating if you haven’t done it before. Trust your baby and your own feelings. Well-meaning friends and family will try and give you advice and not all of it will work. Don’t be afraid to ask for space if you need time to focus on your infant.’

– Sarah, new mother, South Australia

Things to keep in mind when feeding your infant

Sometimes feeding is easy for both baby and parents, and sometimes it’s not. Whether you are breastfeeding/chestfeeding or bottle-feeding, there’s a lot involved. Be patient with yourself, and your baby, as you learn what works for you and settle into a routine.

There is lots of helpful information on the Raising Children Network about feeding newborns (0–3 months) and feeding babies (3–12 months). Pregnancy, Birth & Baby also offers helpful information on feeding your infant. If you’re bottle-feeding, the Raising Children Network has a list of everything you will need to clean and sterilise bottles to keep your baby safe from infection, and clear advice on how to prepare baby formula to make sure your infant is well nourished.

Whenever you’re feeding your baby, do what you can to make yourself calm and comfortable and allow enough time that you don’t have to rush. This is especially important when making any changes, like from breastfeeding/chestfeeding to bottle-feeding, or when starting to introduce solid foods. If you have other small children, ask trusted family or friends to help look after them so you can focus on your infant. This can be especially useful if you are finding things difficult.

Until your infant can sit to feed, it’s safer to hold them while feeding, rather than putting them to bed with a bottle. This can help avoid the risks of choking, tooth decay and ear infection that can occur if they fall asleep while bottle-feeding. Plus, if your baby becomes used to falling asleep with a bottle in their cot it can be harder for them to learn to settle independently.

Bonding with your baby during feeding times

While you are giving them the nutrients they need to grow and learn, each feed is also an opportunity to build your bond with your baby.

Cuddling and making eye contact with your baby during feeding helps them to develop and grow and increases your infant-parent attachment. This attachment forms the foundation for your child’s social, emotional and mental development and lifelong wellbeing. Feeding times are a great opportunity to interact with your baby by gently talking or singing to them. These moments also give your infant the opportunity to practice ‘having a conversation’ with you by smiling, making eye contact and vocalising (babbling, squealing and laughing) in return.

When you’re feeding, try to check in with how you’re feeling and what your infant might be noticing in your facial expression and tone of voice. By smiling at your baby while you are feeding them, you’re showing them that they are safe and cared for. This will help to strengthen your bond with them and build their trust in you.

What to do if you’re having trouble feeding your baby

While feeding can be a lovely experience and a great opportunity to bond with your infant, many women/birthing parents experience challenges to breastfeeding/chestfeeding. These can include sore nipples or nipple infections, their baby refusing or biting their breast/chest, blocked milk ducts or mastitis, under- or over-supply of milk, or issues expressing (if you’re returning to work, for example). Don’t try to push through the pain or discomfort, hoping the issue will resolve itself. If you’re having any difficulties with feeding your baby, talk to your child health nurse or GP or call the Australian Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 (24 hours a day, seven days a week).

There are also many reasons a baby might occasionally refuse to feed, feed less or seem like they’re feeding very often. For example, if your baby has a cold, they might have trouble swallowing and be less interested in feeding. On a very hot day, or if they’re having a growth spurt, they might need extra fluid/nutrients and be wanting to feed more often than usual. This is usually not a problem and just takes some flexibility and patience; most feeding issues pass once babies start having solids (around six months of age).

However, if your baby is consistently refusing to eat, over-eating or has ongoing reflux (‘spitting up’ milk or being sick during or shortly after feeding), it is important to seek further support from your GP or child health nurse.

Feeding is a great opportunity to connect and spend time with your baby. These moments can help to build a strong bond between the two of you. And that bond, in turn, acts as a foundation for your child’s positive development, resilience and mental health, throughout their lifetime.

More information and advice for new parents

If you have questions or concerns, visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association website or call their helpline on 1800 686 268 (24 hours a day, seven days a week).

The following links also offer more information and advice around feeding your infant:

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