Nutrition for babies

Importance of growth, health and development in case of babies

New parents are subjected to all kinds of contradictory advice about infant nutrition. But with a few simple guidelines  and some advice from Precision Nutrition parents, you can be sure that you are getting your infant off to the healthiest start. In life, as in other things, where you start can determine where you finish. Infancy is the first year of life. It is a prime time for growth and changes throughout the body. What we eat as infants strongly affects our long-term body weight, health, metabolic programming, immune system, and overall aging.  In the first few years, your child has specific nutritional needs to ensure his/her growth. Human milk and infant formula have all the nutrients your baby needs for the first 6 months – protein, fats, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Human milk contains additional components (e.g. immune defense proteins) that are not present in infant formula.

Fats for babies

The fats in human milk, infant formula and food provide your baby with energy and essential fats—linoleic and linolenic acids, fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K, as well as other fats that have many benefits.

Fats are high in energy which is especially important for infants.

A baby’s stomach is small and can only hold small amounts of food at a time. Their food therefore needs to be high in fat to give them the energy they need in a concentrated form and in quantities with which their stomachs can cope.

“Essential fats” means our bodies cannot produce them, and we need to get them from our diet. They play an important role in maintaining the proper functioning of cell membranes.

Fats help keep your baby healthy and are important in brain and eye development.

Protein

Protein forms part of all cells in the body and is needed to make new cells. It is important for your baby’s growth. The amount of protein in human milk is suited to the growth rate of human infants.

Human milk

Human milk alone is the best source of nutrients for infants and is the gold standard for good nutrition from birth up to 6 months. Milk provides nutrients in the quantities and proportions required to sustain an infant’s growth and development during the first months of life. It also strengthens the immune system of your baby, helps keep your baby healthy and improves development. What’s more, human milk can provide the basis of healthy nutrition until the infant is one year old or more, right until weaning is complete. Human milk is therefore the ideal food for a normal, healthy infant. It provides adequate quantities of nutrients, in correctly balanced proportions.

The infant’s nutritional needs

All babies are different and so are their needs. This means that babies can regulate the amount of nutrition they need by taking more or less milk. That is how they make sure they get the right amount of energy, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins.

Food to  give a baby through the first six months

Breast milk is the best food for babies during this period.  Babies can be exclusively breast-fed for their first six months of life. Breast milk is the optimal nutrient mix for infants. It’s full of good stuff like antibodies, antimicrobial factors, enzymes, and anti-inflammatory factors. it also has fatty acids (which promote optimal brain development). Breastfeeding keeps the baby developing and growing properly, helps infants fight off disease (such as gastrointestinal and respiratory infections) both now and in the future. It may even ensure that the baby grows up to prefer healthy food. Because breastfeeding stimulates the release of beneficial hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin. It can help the mother lose weight and bond with her baby. Breast milk is delivered in a biodegradable “organic package”, so mom doesn’t need to use as much plastic packaging (since tiny humans easily absorb plastic-contained endocrine disruptors).

Supplementation while breastfeeding

Breast milk will provide all of the nutrients the infant needs for the first six months of life. However, some babies may need a bit of supplementation at times.

Vitamin D

Because modern life — especially in northern latitudes — leaves so many of us with low vitamin D levels, many mothers are deficient in vitamin D while pregnant and breastfeeding. Additionally, preemies are often low in vitamin D.

This means that infants may need a vitamin D supplement. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a daily vitamin D supplement of 400IU for all breast-fed infants, starting immediately after birth.

Note: once formula fed infants are up to about 30 oz of formula per day (which is usually around 2 months), you can discontinue vitamin D supplementation. However, it is recommended that breast fed infants continue vitamin D supplementation for at least one year.

In the end, some babies can get enough vitamin D from breast milk. But the mom needs to have solid vitamin D levels for this to happen, which most don’t.  If you’re pregnant or a new mom, check with your doctor and pharmacist about testing your vitamin D levels, and the best and safest options for your infant.

Vitamin B12

Breastfeeding mothers who eat an exclusively plant-based (vegan) diet should supplement with vitamin B12.

Iron

A fetus will store iron from the mother’s blood while in the womb.  Premature babies need extra iron because they do not build up enough stores.

Breast milk doesn’t have much iron, but it is well absorbed.  Iron stores will last until about six months of age, thus no iron supplement should be required during this time.  Formula-fed infants will likely get enough iron.

Probiotics

Babies are born with a sterile environment inside. As they pass through the birth canal, the mothers’ bacteria colonize infants’ mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract. This is normal and desirable — just how Nature intended.

However, in an environment of modern cleanliness, or perhaps after a C-section, this bacterial colonization doesn’t happen as easily or well. This can lead to later gastrointestinal, respiratory, and/or ear-nose-throat type infections in babies, as well as a lower immune system.

In this case, parents can supplement with an infant probiotic formulation — talk to your pharmacist to find out what’s best.

Fluids & hydration

The amount of fluid in breast milk or formula will usually be enough, so normally you shouldn’t need to supplement with water.

However, infants easily and quickly become dehydrated under certain conditions, such as if the infant has a fever or is vomiting a lot; or if  the climate is very hot.

Rehydration is also crucial if infants have diarrhea. (In this case, add a little sugar and salt to the water to make a simple electrolyte solution.)

Use urine color as a guide: Dark yellow urine will signify dehydration. Clear urine signifies potential over-hydration. You want to see something somewhere in the middle. (Baby will undoubtedly oblige with a urine sample, probably at the most socially inconvenient time.)

Food for 6-12 months babies

Introducing solid food

Until about 4-6 months old, infants can’t digest most foods. Infants are ready for solid foods once they have doubled their birth weight, providing they can hold their heads up, sit in a high chair, open their mouths when food is presented, and swallow. This usually occurs around six months old. At first, offer solid foods in addition to breast milk, not as a replacement for it. The first “solid” foods should also be liquid-like.

Solid food timeline

Step 1: Rice cereal (maybe)

Rice cereal with breast milk or formula is a common first food.  It’s generally well-tolerated with low potential for allergy. However, rice cereal is rooted in tradition rather than science. There’s no strong evidence that this is a better option than other single-grain cereals (or grains in general). Try it and see how it goes.

Step 2: Vegetables

Vegetables are full of nutrients and not as sweet as fruits. Pureed vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets, squashes, or carrots are easy to cook and mash.

Step 3: Fruit

Introduce fruit after vegetables. If fruit is the first food, baby might expect every food to taste sweet; an important factor considering that food tastes formed early in life can persist. Also, babies don’t yet have the ability to digest fructose effectively. So, unless you want explosive diarrhea, keep fruit intake moderate and avoid high-fiber fruits like prunes for a while.

You can try things like:

  • mashed banana with breast milk
  • cooked and puréed fruit (such as pears, peaches, or apples)

Step 4: Higher-protein foods

This includes well-cooked and mashed beans/lentils/green peas, and finely chopped meats.  You could even add a little undenatured, unflavored whey protein to pureed foods, formula, etc. It can take a while for the infant’s GI tract to adjust. Some undigested food might be found in the stool; this is okay and all part of the process.

Food for 12 or above months babies

By around one year old, you can add a pretty good roster of foods, such as:

  • avocado
  • tree nuts
  • string beans
  • asparagus
  • puréed fresh fruit
  • egg yolk (note: iron from egg yolks isn’t well absorbed)
  • mashed lentils/beans (make sure these are adequately cooked)
  • meat, chicken, or mild-tasting fish

Finely chop, mash, and/or puree most of these, especially meat or any little bits that can’t be easily gummed — or that can cause choking.

Introduce with caution

While fish is usually tolerated easily, experts vary on when to introduce shellfish/crustaceans. The general consensus is to wait until the child is a little older. Shellfish is a common childhood allergen, along with:

  • whole eggs/egg white
  • peanuts
  • cow’s milk
  • wheat
  • soy

Also look for any reactions when introducing nightshades — potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers.

If or when you add these to your child’s diet later on, observe carefully and look for any reactions before adding something else. Most kids will do just fine with many of these foods.

10 best foods for babies

1. Bananas are best for babies

Bananas are full of carbohydrates, which provide sustained energy, as well as fiber to support a healthy digestive tract. They’re a perfectly portable baby food, as they come in their own easy-to-peel packaging. When serving bananas to young babies, make sure they are ripe and thoroughly mashed. Older babies can eat chopped bananas as finger food, but they should also be ripe so they’re easy for young eaters to mash and chew.

2. Sweet potatoes are suitable for babies

Sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber and an excellent source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that helps prevent certain types of cancer and mops up free radicals. Most babies prefer sweet potatoes over other vegetables because of their naturally sweet taste. When cooked and mashed, sweet potatoes make a smooth puree that’s easy to eat, even for babies who are just starting the to transition to solid foods.

3. Avocados are babies’ bestfriend

Baby Center moms are all about avocado as a first food. This buttery fruit-vegetable is rich in healthy unsaturated fats that help boost brain development. In fact, the fat composition of avocados is somewhat similar to that of breast milk. Avocados are sometimes thought of as a vegetable, but they are actually a fruit! They also contain more nutrients than any of their food-group kin. Avocados have the highest protein content of any fruit and are rich in monounsaturated fat — the “good” type of fat that helps prevent heart disease. Make sure you only serve Baby ripe avocados. Wash the outside, then remove the peel and mash well. Since they’re high in fat, avocados can quickly make your baby feel full, so just serve a little on the side with other foods, such as meat or chicken purees.

4. Feed eggs to your baby

Eggs are packed with goodness. Egg whites are mainly protein and the yolks provide zinc and vitamins A, D, E, and B12. The yolk also has choline, which research is showing is crucial for brain health and development. Traditionally, pediatricians have advised parents to not serve eggs — especially egg whites — until after the first year because of the potential for allergic reactions. But that advice is now changing, and some experts believe that eggs should be delayed only in families that have a history of allergies. Since eggs are an excellent source of protein and other nutrients, talk to your pediatrician once your baby starts eating solid foods to see when it’s OK to introduce them.

5. Broccoli for babies

This cruciferous vegetable contains fiber, folate, and calcium, and may even help ward off cancer. Introduce your baby to broccoli’s bold flavor early, and you’ll be expanding his tastes and encouraging a lifelong love of green vegetables.

Serving idea: Steam until soft, cut into pieces small enough for your child to eat safely, and then chill. Steaming takes the bite out of broccoli, and some babies prefer the texture and taste when it’s cold.

6. Carrots should be fed to your baby

Carrots have large amounts of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gives them their orange color. Beta-carotene converts into vitamin A in the body and plays a role in growth and healthy vision. Cooking carrots brings out their natural sweetness, which makes them appealing to babies, who are born with a preference for sweet flavors. When making carrots for your little one, make sure they are cooked until very soft. Then puree them or, if your baby is eating finger foods with more texture, you can give her well-cooked diced carrots.

7. Yogurt good for babies

Creamy yogurt is rich in calcium and vitamin D, necessary for healthy bones and teeth. Your baby can have it at 4 to 6 months, long before he’ll be ready for cow’s milk. Opt for plain yogurt with no added sugar. Also look for a brand with the most live cultures, which help regulate the good bacteria in your baby’s digestive tract. Make sure you pick up whole-milk yogurt – babies need the calories from fat.

Serving ideas: Yogurt is fine on its own, or swirl in pureed berries or other fresh fruit, applesauce, or mashed avocado.

8. Baby cereal

Iron-fortified infant cereals give your baby the iron she needs for proper growth and development. Babies are born with a supply of iron, but it starts to run out around 5-6 months. Breast milk does not contain adequate amounts of iron, making iron-rich foods important. If your baby is just starting to eat solids, experts recommend iron-fortified rice cereal as the first food for babies since it’s less likely than other grains to cause an allergic reaction. As your baby grows older, you can mix infant cereal with fruit. It’s a good thickener for runny purees like pear, peach, and plum.

9. Cheese for babies

Cheese is a good source of protein — an essential nutrient for growth — and calcium for building strong bones and teeth. It also contains a healthy dose of riboflavin (vitamin B2), which helps convert protein, fat, and carbohydrates into energy. Swiss cheese in particular has a slightly sweet taste that appeals to babies. Since cheese can be a choking hazard, cut it into small diced pieces. It’s best for older babies who are eating finger foods and are used to different textures.

10. Citrus fruits good for babies

Citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, are a good source of vitamin C, which helps make the collagen that’s found in muscles, bones, and other body tissues. Vitamin C also heals cuts and assists with the absorption of iron from other foods. Citrus fruits also have potassium, a mineral that helps muscles contract and plays a role in maintaining a healthy fluid balance in the body. Often too acidic for young babies, hold off on serving citrus fruits until after Baby’s first birthday.

Foods to avoid for first few months

1. Honey

Tempted to sweeten up baby’s bland pear sauce with a touch of honey? Don’t. According to Nutrition, “Honey is linked to infant botulism, an illness that can be fatal.” The tummies of babies under age one simply can’t deactivate the botulism spores that might be in honey, Stern says. So avoid this food until baby has passed his or her first birthday.

2. Nuts And Peanuts

You can introduce small amounts of creamy—not chunky—peanut butter when your child is one year old (try spreading a thin layer on a cracker), but avoid nuts in whole form until he or she is 4 years old to prevent choking.

3. Cow’s Milk

Babies just can’t easily digest cow’s milk, which is one reason why experts recommend waiting until the one-year mark before offering it.