Proper nutrition in the first 2 years of life is vital for future growth and development. For the first 4-6 months of life, the only nutrition that a child needs is breastmilk or formula.
Breastfeeding involves nursing every 1.5-2 hours on average while the mother’s supply is coming in. The repeated latches send a signal to the mother’s brain to make more milk. This will lay the foundation for the mother’s future breastmilk supply.
What happens if nursing is not possible? Then you can bottle feed pumped breast milk or supplement with formula. The important thing to realize with bottle feeding is that it should take the same amount of time as nursing (at least 15-20 minutes). This is done by paced bottle feeding, method of bottle feeding that allows the infant to be more in control of the feeding pace.
Between 4-6 months, your baby will start sitting in a tripod position/sitting up with support, transferring objects from one hand to another, putting things in the mouth, and even trying to grab your food! Now your baby is ready to try solid foods. Before starting solids, there are a few rules to follow:
- Do not give honey until your child turns 1 year of age.
- No popcorn until 4 years of age.
- Know how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.
- Do not leave your baby unattended with food.
- Smash or cut circular pieces of food to avoid choking hazards.
- Speaking of choking hazards, being CPR trained is a great idea!
- Do not give your baby rice cereal, just real foods.
- Baby-led weaning should be just that, BABY-LED. Some babies can gum soft pieces while others gag on anything thicker than pureed. Make sure your baby has the ability to gum or chew foods.
- Put only a few pieces of food on your baby’s tray because they often have a tendency to “squirrel” food in their cheeks. You want your baby to learn to take one piece and swallow before picking up another piece of food.
What foods should my baby eating?
At this point you would give complementary foods: Animal source foods, including meat, fish, or eggs, should be consumed daily. Fruits and vegetables should be consumed, and pulses, nuts and seeds should be consumed frequently, particularly when meat, fish, or eggs and vegetables are limited in the diet. Avoid processed, starchy foods. Add fats such as avocados, olive oil, cheese, etc.
Start with 1 meal per day. If your baby does not thrust the food away with their tongue, then offer anywhere from 1-2 spoons to ¼ cup of food. The food should be thick enough to fall off the spoon. Many babies dislike bland foods, so add your spices! If your child dislikes a food, offer it every other day for 2-3 weeks while alternating the other days with foods that they like. This repeated exposure will usually help them tolerate the foods better.
If there are no problems with constipation or stomach issues, continue giving meals 2-3 times per day.
Foods should be mainly high fat, high protein, high fiber foods. They should be rich in iron. Fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, nuts, seafood, cheeses, yogurts are all great foods! Early exposure to various foods will help decrease the risk of food allergies. The healthiest foods are those that have had parents (technically, plants have had parents). You can provide water with the meals, but avoid juices and soups. Juice is NEVER a healthy alternative to whole foods. Soups do not a high enough energy source.
Sometimes acidic fruits can cause a rash (small red bumps) around the mouth or diaper rash. This does not always indicate an allergy. If there is no vomiting, diarrhea, hives, wheezing, swelling of tongue/lips, you may retry the food at a later time. You can apply petroleum jelly around the face before feeds to prevent the rash after meals.
How much should they eat?
Breastfeeding or formula feeding should continue during this time.
As solid food intake increases, your baby will self-wean from breastfeeds. After a year, you may notice your child is feeding only 2-4 times per day total.
For formula fed babies, your soon-to-be toddler should wean to about 16-18oz and transition to whole cow’s milk by 1 year of age. You should limit cow’s milk to 16-18oz per day to avoid anemia. Breastfed babies do not need cow’s milk.
If breastfeeding, your baby will need more iron when starting solids. You can give iron supplements of 15mg of elemental iron per day or give iron rich foods that equal to about 10-11mg of iron.
When your baby turns one year, you want to start supplementing with Vitamin D 800 IU/day.