You've just got home from the hospital with the most beautiful baby ever born. Congratulations! Life is full of hope and optimism.
At that exact time, your perfect bundle of joy begins to cry. As a mother, you recognize the cry of hunger and look around for the nurses that have come to your assistance the last several days.
Then it hits you - your baby is crying bloody murder and no one is here to help you with feeding. What do you do? How do you feed a newborn, a six-month old or a one-year old?
The American Academy of Pediatrics, Health Canada, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization encourage human breast milk for a minimum of six months of a newborn's life. Human breast milk is made to order for your child, and contains the perfect amount of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals for a growing baby. Human milk grows and develop with the child, so when a baby's nutritional needs change, so will the composition of the mother's milk. In the first four days following pregnancy, the breast milk is not yet ready. During this phase, the breast produces colostrum, a form of milk similar in benefits to a probiotic. It contains many antibodies that aid in disease prevention and can mitigate the risk of allergies. A baby is born without any antibodies or immune protection, so colostrum is a first step in insuring the health of your child. It also provides coating to the digestive system to fight off harmful bacteria, and aids the immune system in attacking pathogens.
Breast milk is the only food or drink your baby needs for the first six months of life, but it may not be a possibility for all mothers. For mothers who require formula for their babies, many commercially prepared formulas are available that attempt to mimic the formation of breast milk. The downfall in prepared formulas is their inability to produce antibodies, and they cannot adapt to your child's growing needs. Cow's milk or soy milk are common formulas that can come with a host of problems. Babies may not have the enzymes necessary to digest either formula, and their ingestion can cause digestive issues and a lifetime of allergic reactions. Hypo-allergenic formulas are available to counter both these issues.
Breast milk does have a deficiency - a lack of vitamin D - so supplementation is recommended at about two months. For bone health, particularly rickets, vitamin D in doses of 400 IU daily is encouraged.
And when your baby is ready for solid food, you'll notice the following signs:
When introducing new foods, avoid potentially allergenic foods at first. Foods known to cause allergic reactions are cow's milk, egg and citrus. Excluding honey at this time is also recommended, as it has spores that can cause botulism. Cow's milk should be avoided as it lacks adequate nutrition for human babies. Fish, seafood and peanuts can also cause allergies in prone children. Mild forms of allergy can be a rash, bloating and diarrhea. But if children keep ingesting these foods, allergic reactions can become much more severe, such as hives or difficulty breathing. Avoid these foods until age two or three.
For easier digestion, all new foods introduced should be finely pureed. Vegetables should be steamed until quite soft, and babies will be more attracted to sweeter vegetables and fruit due to their taste. But don't just serve foods your child likes - the time to introduce good eating habits is now. Vegetable avoidance is a learned behaviour, so introduce your child to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables early. To avoid allergies in your toddler or to minimize allergic reactions, please refer to Russell Marz's “Medical Nutrition from Marz” for a full list of timing food initiation.
When your child is one to two years old, he or she should be well on his or her way to eating normally. With breast milk as only a small portion of their nutritional repertoire, nutritional deficiencies can occur. Anemia can be a problem at this age, so include iron-rich foods in their diet, such as meat, poultry, fish, beans and tofu. Iron aids in the production of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout the body for energy and exertion. Also be on alert for any allergenic foods causing a problem, and if necessary, remove them from their diet.
Regular consumption of meals should be a priority at this time. A parent should encourage their child to eat at least three meals and two snacks daily. Timing and consistency are important - meals should be eaten at approximately the same time everyday. Toddlers are not voracious eaters, and the skipping of meals or snacks is common, and shouldn't be a cause for concern.
A final note - proper nutrition for children isn't just eating balanced meals, but also ensuring adequate hydration - which means drinking plenty of water. Toddlers and children, even when not engaged in sports, expend a lot of energy and need to replenish their stores continuously. Drinking adequate amounts of water is even more important if your child is active. According to the National Association of Sports and Physical Education, a child two to five years old should not be inactive for more than an hour per day, and children six to twelve years old should not be sedentary for more than two hours at a time.
Activity also needs to be followed with a balanced diet that includes proteins for muscle maintenance and growth, carbohydrates for energy and much needed minerals and vitamins. Good protein sources are lean meats, poultry, fish, and tofu. While nuts are a good source of protein, too, they should be avoided at early ages. Carbohydrates include any vegetables, grains (avoid wheat) and beans, with a heavy emphasis on vegetable sources. Children also need calcium to build strong bones, and iron to bring oxygen to the cells. This diet is similar to that of athletic adults, minus the emphasis on fat, as children will not need them given the short duration of their activity. And of course, water, water, water - at least every 15 minutes. Following this diet will help your child grow up healthy and happy.