Infancy and early childhood are significant stages of growth and development, particularly during the first twelve months of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that “given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.” Clearly, how we feed our infants is critical to their health. Here are some helpful reminders about proper feeding practices during your baby’s first year.
During the first six months of life, infants should be exclusively breastfed. If you have trouble breastfeeding or your infant doesn’t tolerate breast milk well, iron-fortified infant formula is the next best option.
Breast milk is the most important food for your infant during their first year as it has a protective effect on newborns. It’s particularly known to reduce the risk of lower respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, GI infections and cold, ear and throat infections. Breast milk also contains protein, carbohydrates, fats and vitamins, all of which are vital for your baby’s health.
Starting around 6 months of age, you can begin complementary feeding. Complementary feeding is where solid foods are introduced in addition to breast milk or formula. In addition to the complementary foods, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.
Many nutrients contribute to brain development and baby health. Introducing a variety of vegetables, fruits, yogurt, grains and pureed meats will help your baby get the nutrients he or she needs. Baby cereal, mashed sweet potatoes and pureed chicken are a few examples of first foods to introduce. Moreover, it’s worth noting that the AAP has recently changed its position on the introduction of peanuts. They now advise parents to introduce peanuts along with other complementary foods because delaying the introduction of peanuts can be associated with an increased risk of peanut allergy.
In addition to nutrition, food also plays a role in the development of your baby’s senses. By offering different foods, you will expose your child to a variety of smells, tastes and textures. Try introducing a new food every three to five days and monitor for potential allergic reactions or intolerances. Spacing new food introductions allows time to observe your baby’s taste preferences. It can take several attempts before new foods are accepted, so don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t immediately accept a particular food.
Raising a child is challenging, especially during the first year. A responsive feeding style is often recommended to create a positive eating environment. In this emotionally supportive style, your baby signals hunger and satiety through motions or facial expressions and you recognize the cues then respond accordingly.
We hope these tips will be helpful as you nourish your infant. If you want more information, be sure to follow the latest AAP updates. Additionally, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans will include the birth to 24-month age range, providing dietary guidance for early childhood.