After birth, newborns are no longer connected to mom’s bloodstream and will need extra care and attention to obtain the nutrients they need for healthy growth. There are many options on the table, and the most common sequence is trying breastfeeding first, supplementing with infant formula, slowly moving to solid foods, and including cow’s milk and other foods progressively.
Infant nutrition might seem challenging at first because it is not guided by the same principles as adult and even childhood nutrition. That is why first-time fathers are usually very nervous around this topic and need careful guidance to clear out their doubts.
In this article, we are going to cover the steps babies need to take in order to be properly nourished, and the current recommendations of the medical community to grow a healthy baby.
Newborn (0-6 months)The safest recommendation to maintain a healthy newborn baby is through breastfeeding. Breast milk has various stages, and each one has a different color, taste, and levels of nutrients. For example, colostrum is the very first milk that your breasts create. It is yellowish and thicker with a higher level of nutrients and beta-carotene. After two weeks, you will start giving your baby mature milk, which is thin and clear and will increase the level of fat as you continue to breastfeed. Giving your baby the first milk you produce is very important because it has a higher level of nutrients and more antioxidant capacity (1).
Breast milk contains antibodies that will be passed from the mother to her baby. It will reduce the chance of bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, and other types of infectious diseases, enhance the cognitive development of your baby, and create an additional affective link between mother and child that is very important in this early stage. For this reason, doctors usually recommend exclusive breastfeeding until your baby turns 4-6 months old, and encourage to continue using breast milk when he has turned one year old but not beyond two years of age (2).
However, it is not always possible to maintain breastfeeding, and there are certain contraindications for this type of nutrition. For example, mothers receiving certain medications or infants with galactosemia (a genetic deficiency of an enzyme that breaks the sugar in breast milk) should not continue breastfeeding and would need to look for an alternative in bottle feeding (2).
6-12 monthsAround 4 months, your baby will be prepared to start eating solid foods, but weaning is usually recommended after 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. In this stage, you will be given a list of foods that you will need to introduce progressively and see how your child responds to each new texture and flavor. In the whole process, you will continue using breast milk or infant formula as recommended by your doctor, and the weaning protocol usually starts with fruit puree and soft fruits like guava, banana, and others. You will need to introduce each one of these foods for 3 to 5 days and only then go on adding another type of food (3).
The whole weaning process should take around 6 months, and only between 9 and 12 months you will be able to prepare foods such as eggs and legumes, usually to be taken in the breakfast. In this regard, you should follow the instructions of your doctor because each baby would have their own protocol depending on how they respond to solid foods and whether or not they develop allergies and other food intolerance problems (4).
On the other hand, infant formula should be continued when there’s a contraindication for breastfeeding, and it is recommended after 6 months when mothers have a low breast milk supply, after multiple pregnancies, and for some medical reasons. It might also be recommended before your baby turns 6 months old in some cases. It is also appropriate if your baby is not gaining weight properly and might be the right choice if he is not fully satisfied after feeding. However, all of this should be carefully assessed by your doctor before recommending an infant formula adapted to your child (4).
1 to 5 yearsAfter one year, it is possible to introduce whole milk and citric fruits, and babies would have a type of nutrition that is very similar to that of preschool boys and girls. However, it is still important to pay attention to the amount of servings for each meal. In this stage, it is also very common to introduce babies to sweets and other unhealthy food choices, and parents should be cautious to implement healthy eating as a part of the education.
Given the rising incidence of childhood obesity, it is increasingly important to pay attention to the amount of fruits and vegetables in your children’s meals. This is especially important after 3 years old because it builds the foundation that may or may not protect your children against the dangers of overweight and obesity (5). In this stage, and since they are having a type of nutrition that is quite similar to that of adolescents and
adults, it is vital to expose children to flavors of fresh foods in carefully crafted preparations that enhance their taste. In other words, it is essential to be creative and always include in your meals a considerable portion of vegetables without creating an aversion against them. Also, keep in mind that sometimes babies and children will not like vegetables on the first try, but different preparations and repeating tasting of selected vegetables has proven as a helpful strategy to promote liking of these healthy food choices (6).
Thus, do not give up and give your baby and child the best nutrition available. After birth, it might be difficult to continue breastfeeding, and after your baby has turned 3 years old it might be difficult to promote healthy eating by introducing more fruits and vegetables. But if you do the right thing and do not give up your children will grow healthier and stronger every year.
References:Alberti-Fidanza, A., Burini, G., & Perriello, G. (2002). Total antioxidant capacity of colostrum, and