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First year drinks and beyond


Note: The information featured on this page is currently under review, and will be updated in due course. Please ensure that you speak with your health care professional about any queries you may have about the issues covered here.

Breastfeeding is encouraged as long as you and your baby are both happy to continue, due to the benefits. Babies taking baby formula milk should continue this until 15 to 18 months and then change to whole (full fat) cows’ milk. Advice on supplements to the various milk feeds available is given below.

If your child is taking a specialised milk, you should take the advice of your local medical team.

Breast milk

Babies whose main drink is breast milk will need a vitamin D supplement until breastfeeding stops. They will also need an iron supplement until around 12 months uncorrected age, but it can be stopped earlier if the weaning diet supplies enough.

Post-discharge baby milk formula

This formula is often given while a baby is still on the neonatal unit and is usually continued after discharge. It is designed to give a nutritional intake that is half way between preterm formula and term formula (ordinary baby milk formula).

It provides more minerals and vitamins than a term formula, to help babies catch up on any nutrients they might be low on at discharge from the neonatal unit; it is not given just for weight gain. Vitamin and iron supplements are not usually needed with this formula. It is available on prescription and most babies only need it up to three months' corrected age.

Ordinary baby milk formula designed for term babies

If your baby takes this milk on discharge, you may be advised to give vitamin and iron supplements. Carry on with these until advised to stop by your local medical team. However supplements are not always required, so don’t worry if your baby is not having them. Follow-on milks are designed for term babies. If you are advised to use a follow-on milk, it is best not to start giving this before six months' corrected age.

Non-milk drinks

Once your baby is on three meals a day, offer cooled boiled water in a beaker or a cup at meal times. This is especially important in hot weather to avoid dehydration and it will help prevent constipation.

If you give your baby juice, make sure it is diluted by more than the manufacturer’s advice, for example just enough to flavour the water, and also give it in a beaker or cup. Be careful not to let your baby drink too much, as some babies will drink more than they need and fill themselves up, so they may have a poorer appetite for more nutritious solid food.

Cows’ milk

Most babies can drink cows’ milk from around 15 to 18 months. Use full fat cows’ milk and give your child daily Healthy Start children’s vitamin drops or a children’s vitamin supplement containing vitamins A and D until five years of age, unless you are advised otherwise by a health professional. Healthy Start children’s vitamin drops should be available at low cost from your local baby clinic and are free to those on benefits.

Bottle to cup

Using a bottle for too long could cause your baby to have a poorer intake of solid foods and can lead to problems with the development of his or her teeth.

Start offering a free flowing cup from around six to eight months and aim to have your baby off bottles by 12 to 18 months. It is best to only give milk in a bottle and other drinks by a cup. Avoid using cups that your baby has to suck to drink from, for example ‘any way up’ or spill-proof versions, as these still need a sucking action and will not help your baby learn to drink from a normal cup. If you are breastfeeding give any other fluids from a free-flowing beaker or cup.

Protecting your baby’s teeth

Do not leave bottles of milk in your baby’s mouth when he or she is sleeping. Giving too much fruit juice to your baby may also increase the risk of tooth decay, as fruit juices are often very acidic. It is much better for your baby to get used to drinking water rather than juice to quench their thirst.

Even if your baby doesn’t have teeth, you can start cleansing their mouth with a baby brush and a very small amount of toothpaste, especially once foods containing sugar are started. Check with your health visitor about brushing and fluoride supplements.

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