Keeping your child healthy is a top priority as a parent. Giving children the proper nutrition can help them stay healthy and develop physically and mentally.
As a new parent, one of the first choices you'll have to make is deciding whether to give your baby breast milk or formula. Before you make your decision, make sure that you've done your homework and that your decision is based on how to best get the proper nutrition to your baby.
The current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Breastfeeding should continue even after the introduction of solid foods around the six month mark and at least through the first year.
Your breast milk is a great source of nutrition for your infant. It is easily digested and contains vitamins, minerals and antibodies that can support your baby's healthy growth and a strong immune system.
In some cases mothers choose not to breastfeed, are unable to breastfeed or they need to supplement a low supply of breast milk with formula. Formula feeding can be just as comforting and nutritious for your baby if you follow a few simple guidelines.
- Carefully follow preparation instructions on the formula label.
- Discard unfinished bottles or bottles that are unrefrigerated for over an hour.
- Refrigerate your prepared bottles and be sure to use them within 24 hours.
- Warm bottles of formula under warm water or by placing the bottle in a warm container of water. Avoid microwaving because it can create hot spots in the formula that can burn your baby's mouth.
Knowing what to feed your baby and when can be a puzzling topic for parents. Some babies are satisfied up to six months with simply breast milk or formula while others show signs of readiness near four months. Discuss the milestone of introducing solid foods with your child's pediatrician and watch your child for signs of readiness.
Birth to 6 months old
During the first four months of your child's life, breast milk or formula should be a sufficient source of nutrition and there isn't much need for water, juice or solid foods. In fact, introducing any of these can affect your baby's digestion and negate the nutrition being delivered though breast milk or formula. While some babies may be ready for solid foods as early as four months, try not to rush this step. Look for these signs of readiness:
- Your baby's tongue-thrust reflex has calmed down. This reflex keeps babies from choking, but also pushes food out of their mouths.
- Your baby can sit up and support his or her own head.
- Your baby shows interest in your food.
Whether your baby is ready at four months, six months or somewhere in between, it is recommended that your baby's first food be a single-grain, iron-fortified baby cereal mixed with breast milk or formula. Again, consult your child's pediatrician and decide together what the best beginner food is for your baby and when to try the first taste.
6 to 12 months old
Once your baby has been introduced to solid foods and gets the hang of baby cereal, you can begin to move on to a vegetable or fruit puree. Anytime you introduce a new food to your baby, be on the lookout for signs of a food allergy, especially if food allergies run in your family. As a precaution, avoid foods that commonly cause reactions, like eggs, nuts, and fish or shellfish until after the one year mark or after talking to your child's pediatrician. Possible signs of allergic reactions include rash, bloating, an increase in intestinal gas, or diarrhea or fussiness after eating. Introduce new foods one at a time and allow at least two to three days between new foods to check for signs of allergies.
You may choose to prepare your own baby food or buy prepared baby food. Either option can be equally nutritious for your growing child. If you choose to buy prepared food, choose a brand without added fillers or sugars to ensure that your baby is receiving the maximum nutrition at each meal. If preparing your baby's food, it's up to you to make sure that the food is prepared safely.
- Follow basic food safety suggestions to avoid foodborne illness.
- Use cooking methods that retain the maximum amounts of nutrients, like steaming or baking.
- Freeze unused portions that you won't use right away in individual serving sizes. Containers are available specifically for freezing baby food or you can use covered ice cube trays. Thaw only the amount you need at each meal to avoid reheating and refreezing.
Around the one year mark, your child's pediatrician may also suggest the addition of water and whole milk to your child's diet along with the weaning of the bottle. As your baby improves his or her hand-eye coordination you may be able to begin offering finger foods. These finger foods should be easily gummed or mashed or be able to melt in your baby's mouth.
Beyond the first year
Your child's diet now looks much different than it did a year ago. By now your child may be comfortable drinking whole milk or water from a cup, and may not even miss that old bottle. As your baby moves away from purees and onto more solid finger foods, keep a few things in mind to avoid choking and to ensure maximum nutrition.
- Avoid foods that could present choking hazards, like hard to chew foods or those with tough skins. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that the following foods are highest risk for young children under the age of four:
- Hot dogs or sausage
- Hard, gooey or sticky candy
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grapes
- Chunks of meat or cheese
- Chunks of peanut butter
- Chunks of raw fruits or vegetables (such as carrots or apples)
- Chewing gum
- Continue to offer a variety of foods to your child, even if he or she begins to develop picky eating habits. Offer a balanced diet daily, and set a good example for how to eat nutritious foods.
Your growing child depends on you for nutrition in one way or another throughout the first few years. Make informed decisions and offer your baby safe and healthy options at each meal to make sure that you're doing your part to raise a strong and healthy child.