Nutrition for Infants
Breastmilk or formula should be your child’s sole nutritional source for about the first six months, and the major source of nutrition throughout the first twelve months. The AAP recommends breastfeeding as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for about 6 months. When you add solid foods to your baby’s diet, continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months. You can continue to breastfeed after 12 months if you and your baby desire. Check with us about vitamin D and iron supplements during the first year.
If you are breastfeeding your baby, click here for Muddy Creek Pediatric’s resources for breastfeeding moms, and information from our in-house lactation consultant, Toral Freson.
Whether you are providing breastmilk or formula for your child, we want to work closely with you to pay attention to your baby’s feeding schedule and patterns and make sure your child is getting enough nutrition for growth. It is important to keep track of when and how much your child is eating so we can discuss it during your well-child visits, or in the event any issues arise with feeding.
How to know your baby is getting enough to eat
Nearly all new mothers worry about whether their babies are properly nourished. Breastfeeding mothers cannot measure exactly how much milk their newborns take, but they can tell in other ways whether their babies are getting enough to eat. Whether you are providing breastmilk or formula for your child, we want to work closely with you to pay attention to your baby’s feeding schedule and patterns and make sure your child is getting enough nutrition for growth. It is important to keep track of when and how much your child is eating so we can discuss it during your well-child visits, or in the event any issues arise with feeding. Click here for more information from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Many parents ask why they can’t just feed their baby regular cow’s milk. There are many reasons:
- Human babies cannot digest cow’s milk as completely or easily as they digest formula.
- Cow’s milk contains high concentrations of protein and minerals, which can stress a newborn’s immature kidneys and cause severe illness at times of heat stress, fever, or diarrhea.
- Cow’s milk lacks the proper amounts of iron, vitamin C, and other nutrients that human babies need.
- Cow’s milk can cause iron-deficiency anemia in some babies, since cow’s milk protein can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestine, leading to loss of blood into the stools.
- Cow’s milk also does not contain the healthiest types of fat for growing babies.
For all of these reasons, your baby should not receive any regular cow’s milk for the first twelve months of life.
6 to 12 months
Is your baby ready to try solid food?
Generally, when infants double their birth weight (typically at about 4 months) and weigh about 13 pounds or more, they may be ready for solid foods. The following are some guidelines from the AAP book Nutrition: What Every Parent Needs to Know. Remember that each child’s readiness depends on his own rate of development. Transitioning from breastmilk or formula to solid food is a long process that should not be rushed.
- Can he hold his head up? Your baby should be able to sit in a high chair, feeding seat, or infant seat with good head control.
- Does he open his mouth when food comes his way? Babies may be ready if they watch you eating, reach for your food, and seem eager to be fed.
- Can he move food from a spoon into his throat? If you offer a spoon of rice cereal and he pushes it out of his mouth and it dribbles onto his chin, he may not have the ability to move it to the back of his mouth to swallow it. It’s normal. Remember, he’s never had anything thicker than breast milk or formula before, and this may take some getting used to. Try diluting it the first few times, then gradually thicken the texture. You may also want to wait a week or two and try again.
Even after your child is introduced to solid food, breastmilk and/or formula should still count for the majority of their nutrition. At about six months most babies are ready to start solid foods like iron-fortified infant cereal and strained fruits, vegetables, and pureed meats. Because breast milk may not provide enough iron and zinc when babies are around six to nine months, fortified cereals and meats can help breastfed babies in particular.
Good eating habits start early
It is important for your baby to get used to the process of eating—sitting up, taking food from a spoon, resting between bites, and stopping when full. These early experiences will help your child learn good eating habits throughout life.
Encourage family meals from the first feeding. When you can, the whole family should eat together. Research suggests that making it a priority to have planned, unrushed dinner together as a family on a regular basis has positive effects on the development of children.
Remember to offer a good variety of healthy foods that are rich in the nutrients your child needs. Watch your child for cues that he has had enough to eat so you do not overfeed them. Give them plenty of chances to try new foods without negative consequences if they do not like them at first.
If you have any questions about your child’s nutrition, including concerns about your child eating too much or too little, be sure to talk to us here at Muddy Creek Pediatrics.
Which food should I give my baby first?
For most babies it does not matter what the first solid foods are. By tradition, single-grain cereals are usually introduced first.
Baby cereals are available premixed in individual containers or dry, to which you can add breast milk, formula, or water. Whichever type of cereal you use, make sure that it is made for babies and iron-fortified.
NOTE: Do not put baby cereal in a bottle because your baby could choke. It also may increase the amount of food your baby eats and can cause your baby to gain too much weight.
Fruits and Vegetables
Babies are born with a preference for sweets, and the order of introducing foods does not change this.
If your baby has been mostly breastfeeding, he may benefit from baby food made with meat, which contains more easily absorbed sources of iron and zinc that are needed by 4 to 6 months of age. Be sure to check with us if you are concerned about this issue.
- Do not be surprised if most of the first few solid-food feedings wind up on your baby’s face, hands, and bib.
- Increase the amount of food gradually, with just a teaspoonful or two to start. This allows your baby time to learn how to swallow solids.
- Do not make your baby eat if she cries or turns away when you feed her. Go back to nursing or bottle-feeding exclusively for a time before trying again.
- Remember that starting solid foods is a gradual process and at first your baby will still be getting most of her nutrition from breast milk and/or formula.
When can my baby try other foods?
Once your baby learns to eat one food, gradually give him other foods. Give your baby one new food at a time, and wait at least 2 to 3 days before starting another. After each new food, watch for any allergic reactions such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting. If any of these occur, stop using the new food and consult with your child’s doctor.
Generally, meats and vegetables contain more nutrients per serving than fruits or cereals. Many pediatricians recommend against giving eggs and fish in the first year of life because of allergic reactions, but there is no evidence that introducing these nutrient-dense foods after 4 to 6 months of age determines whether your baby will be allergic to them.
Within a few months of starting solid foods, your baby’s daily diet should include a variety of foods each day that may include the following:
- Breast milk and/or formula
NOTE: If you make your own baby food, be aware that home-prepared spinach, beets, green beans, squash, and carrots are not good choices during early infancy. They may contain large amounts of nitrates. Nitrates are chemicals that can cause an unusual type of anemia(low blood count) in young babies. Commercially prepared vegetables are safer because the manufacturers test for nitrates. Peas, corn, and sweet potatoes are better choices for home-prepared baby foods.
When can I give my baby finger foods?
Once your baby can sit up and bring her hands or other objects to her mouth, you can give her finger foods to help her learn to feed herself. To avoid choking, make sure anything you give your baby is soft, easy to swallow, and cut into small pieces. Some examples include:
- Small pieces of banana
- Wafer-type cookies or crackers
- Scrambled eggs
- Well-cooked pasta
- Well-cooked chicken finely chopped
- Well-cooked and cut up yellow squash, peas, and potatoes
At each of your baby’s daily meals, she should be eating about 4 ounces, or the amount in one small jar of strained baby food. Limit giving your baby foods that are made for adults. These foods often contain more salt and other preservatives.
If you want to give your baby fresh food, use a blender or food processor, or just mash softer foods with a fork. All fresh foods should be cooked with no added salt or seasoning. Though you can feed your baby raw bananas (mashed), most other fruits and vegetables should be cooked until they are soft. Refrigerate any food you do not use, and look for any signs of spoilage before giving it to your baby. Fresh foods are not bacteria-free, so they will spoil more quickly than food from a can or jar.
NOTE: Do not give your baby any food that requires chewing at this age. Do not give your baby any food that can be choking hazards, including hot dogs (including meat sticks [baby food “hot dogs”]); nuts and seeds; chunks of meat or cheese; whole grapes; popcorn; chunks of peanut butter; raw vegetables; fruit chunks, such as apple chunks; and hard, gooey, or sticky candy.
What changes can I expect after my baby starts solids?
When your baby starts eating solid foods, his stools will become more solid and variable in color. Because of the added sugars and fats, they will have a much stronger odor too. Peas and other green vegetables may turn the stool a deep-green color; beets may make it red. (Beets sometimes make urine red as well.) If your baby’s meals are not strained, his stools may contain undigested pieces of food, especially hulls of peas or corn, and the skin of tomatoes or other vegetables. All of this is normal.
Your baby’s digestive system is still immature and needs time before it can fully process these new foods. If the stools are extremely loose, watery, or full of mucus, however, it may mean the digestive tract is irritated. In this case, reduce the amount of solids and introduce them more slowly. If the stools continue to be loose, watery, or full of mucus, consult your child’s doctor to find the reason.
One to Two Years
Once your baby is past one year old, you may give him whole cow’s milk, but we recommend the following guidelines:
- A balanced diet of solid foods (cereals, vegetables, fruits, and meats). If your baby is not yet eating a broad range of solid foods, be sure to talk to us about the best nutrition for him.
- Limited intake of milk to one quart (32 ounces or 946 ml) per day. More than this can provide too many calories and may decrease his appetite for the other foods he needs.
- At this age, children still need a higher fat content for proper physical and neurological development,, which is why whole vitamin D milk is recommended for most infants after one year of age until their 3rd birthday. In addition to needing a higher fat content to maintain normal weight gain, it is also important to help toddlers’ bodies absorb vitamins A and D.
- Nonfat, or skimmed, milk provides too high a concentration of protein and minerals and should not be given to infants or toddlers.
Click here for more information on nutrition from the American Academy of Pediatrics.