By Sue Gilbert, MS, Nutritionist
During their first year babies triple their birth weight and increase in length by 50%. To fuel that amazing development, eating is the top priority every day. With tummies too tiny to eat a lot babies compensate by eating often. And that food has to be nutritionally rich.
Besides physically growing, your baby is also socially, emotionally and cognitively developing. Food plays a role in all these areas.
Babies gain control as they grow: they transition from reflexive sucking with a bottle, to crawling by age one, to using a precise pincer grasp to feed themselves solid food they bite, chew and swallow - food that probably comes from your plate.
In the early months, offer breast milk or formula to your baby as he or she requests. Attentive feeding lays a healthy foundation for growth with a supportive, loving environment. At the right time, gradually add solid foods to vary texture and consistency and give your baby the important nutrients he or she needs to grow. This also stimulates their little mouths for oral and motor development.
Newborn to 4 months: Breast or Bottle
At this age, the best and only food for your little one is mother's milk, a formula, or a combination of the two. Allow your baby to determine just how much and how often he or she needs to eat. Some babies eat every two hours, day and night; others will go for longer without eating. At this age, it is best to feed your baby 'on demand'. Newborn babies need to feed frequently because they're growing so quickly, not because they want to manipulate you. When you feed them, they feel secure and learn to trust you.
On a normal day a newborn may consume an average of 16 to 32 ounces of milk or formula. You needn't worry much about what specific nutrients your baby needs. Feeding with breast milk or formula is like one stop shopping when it comes to nutrition. (One nutrient of caution for nursing moms in dark, northern climates...vitamin D. Check with your pediatrician to see if a supplement is necessary).
4 months to 6 months: A Solid Start
At some point during these two months, we introduce most babies to solid foods, although breast milk and formula still largely supply all their nutritional needs. Adding a few semisolid foods is developmentally appropriate. At this time, a baby can control his or her head better, suck stronger, and mimic what he or she sees in their surrounding environment. Babies may even exhibit the beginning of a palmer grasp, bringing objects to their mouth to bite. By 6 months, it seems like everything goes into their mouths! Your baby also has a delightfully improved ability to communicate. You've certainly had plenty of 'conversations' by now. Communication is important when starting solids. Now your baby can show his or her hunger by opening their mouth and leaning toward the spoon. Likewise, your baby will show disinterest by leaning back and pushing away. Without these skills you could unintentionally force-feed your baby.
At this time, the food you offer your baby must be nutritionally and developmentally appropriate. It should offer necessary nutrients with the consistency and texture that will facilitate eating skills. An iron fortified rice cereal, such as Earth's Best Whole Grain Rice Cereal, meets this consistency and texture requirement and is a good choice for a first food.
It is also important to start iron supplements. By four months, birth stores of iron become depleted, and an outside source of iron is necessary. At the same time, your baby will gradually start to drink less formula or breast milk as solid food intake increases. Establishing baby on an iron-fortified cereal early on will help secure their iron status throughout infancy and "toddler-hood" when it is most critical. Rice cereal mixed with breast milk or formula also provides a good balance of calories by mixing protein, carbohydrates and fat. Start with rice cereal since it is the grain least likely to cause an allergic reaction.
As you add solids to your baby's diet, keep in consideration three things:
After adding an iron rich rice cereal, the next most important nutrients to add are vitamins C and A. Offer a vitamin C enriched fruit puree like applesauce, and a dark green or deep orange vegetable, such as pureed carrots or squash. Earth's Best wide variety of First Fruits and Vegetables will ensure your baby gets those nutrients. Adding solids between 4 and 6 months helps to desensitize the gag reflex. Adding foods one at a time, with three days or more in between will help you detect any specific food allergies or sensitivities.
At this stage, begin to shape these foods into a meal pattern. Have cereal and fruit at breakfast with the rest of the family. Pull the high chair up to the dinner table for baby to eat his cereal and vegetables while you enjoy your dinner and his company. By the end of this stage, the wider variety of Earth's Best Second Fruits, Vegetables, Fruit Blends and Dinners can be a part of your baby's diet.
Foods to Add at 4 to 6 months:
The following table highlights some important nutrients and their daily requirements for 0 to 6 month-olds.
|Daily Nutrient Requirements 0 to 6 Months|
|Iron||10 milligrams||Calcium||210 milligrams|
|Vitamin A||400 ug|
|Vitamin C||49 milligrams|
Foods to add at 7 to 9 months: Chunkier Chews
The move to solids progresses rapidly now. Babies begin to chew with an up and down movement of the jaw, replacing the sucking motion. This, combined with the ability to grasp and put food directly into their mouth, tells you to start finger food. You will notice your baby now has the ability to grasp with the palm (e.g. smashing fistfuls of cereal somewhere in the vicinity of his mouth!). To make this easier, carefully choose the shape of the finger foods you offer. Earth's Best Teething Biscuits, toast strips, bagels and crackers are easy for babies to hold. Your baby is practicing motor skills, but don't count it contributing to nutrient intake. By the end of this stage, baby's grasp will be more digital with the ability to better manipulate smaller foods like Cheerios and green peas.
The next step moves toward thicker, chunkier foods. For this age, try Earth's Best Chunky Blends. You can also offer soft mashed, but not strained food as well. In a study by researchers Illingworth and Lister, they showed that it was critical to offer harder to chew foods for proper development. Neglecting to offer harder to chew foods resulted in real difficulties later.
Once your baby is used to getting more nutrition from solids and less from you or formula, replace the nutrients they are no longer receiving from those liquids. This is so important. Make sure food you introduce offers some protein and calcium.
Foods to Add at 7 to 9 months:
Food to add at 9 to 12 months: Transition to the Table
By now, your baby has mastered the pincer grasp. Your baby can hold and manipulate the bottle; they imitate those around them and prefer chewing instead of sucking. Now they can feed themselves! Formula and breast milk will take a real backseat now as your baby moves more and more to solids and table foods. Now babies eat more protein rich foods like tender, moist cooked lean meats, and chopped egg yolk. Try Earth's Best Dinners, like Vegetable Beef Pilaf for a good source of high quality protein and nutrition. If there is no family history of food allergies, try dairy products as part of your baby's diet. By the end of the first year, babies should be able to eat most adult foods, assuming the texture and consistency are manageable. Just watch for foods that present a choking hazard, like peanuts, popcorn, whole grapes, hot dogs and raw carrots. Slice hot dogs and carrots lengthwise to reduce choking risk. Watch for foods too thick or sticky to swallow, like gobs of peanut butter on bread or overly thick cooked cereal. Avoid greasy or spicy foods. Here is a plain and simple guideline: a food closest to its natural state is best. It will probably have more of its original nutrients and fewer added, refined and unnecessary ingredients. For example, tender cooked ground beef is better than a hot dog; and soft cooked potato wedges are better than chips.
Foods to Add at 9 to 12 months:
|Daily Nutrient Requirements 7 to 12 Months|
|Iron||11 milligrams||Calcium||270 milligrams|
|Vitamin A||50 ug|
|Vitamin C||50 milligrams|
Some babies insist on feeding themselves, so you'll need to cleverly pick appropriate finger foods to offer the right nutrient variety. Remember to choose foods from all food groups. See the following food group suggestions:
The Bread and Cereal Group
Fruits and Vegetables
Meats and Proteins
The Earth's Best Infant Feeding Schedule concisely summarizes all this information, but remember, it is general, and is to be used only as a flexible schedule for introducing solids into your baby's diet.
How much should I feed my baby?
Babies are different: let them decide how much to eat. Only they know when they are hungry and full, and they can't clearly communicate that to you. Provide a good variety of wholesome food on a regular basis then let them decide how much to eat. Over the course of the day they will eat what they need, although their intake from one meal to the next may vary dramatically.
At the minimum a one year old should get the following to meet standard nutrient needs:
How much fat should I feed my baby?
Unlike adults, babies need a lot of fat: The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Heart Association Nutrition Committee and The National Cholesterol Education Program agree that fat and cholesterol should not be restricted in infant diets from birth to two. Dietary fat supplies concentrated energy, provides the essential fatty acids necessary for proper neurological development (linoleic and linolenic) and carries important fat-soluble vitamins. Infants need a lot of fat when they eat because they have small tummies. Allow your baby to enjoy the full fat varieties of dairy foods, meats, oils, nuts and seeds. Hold off on starting a lower fat diet until after age two.