Your baby will grow more in his or her first year than they will at any other point in their lives. They will triple their birth weight and shoot up an average of 10 inches in these 12 months.
As the saying goes, yes, they really do grow up fast!
So in this pivotal year, it’s important to ensure they’re getting the adequate nutrition that’s going to fuel their future growth, health and wellbeing.
Here’s what you need to know about your infant’s nutrition in the first 365 days.
Women’s milk contains hundreds of bioactive molecules (enzymes, organic acids and natural chemical compounds), which protect the baby against infection and inflammation, as well as help develop the immune system and organs.
Your milk composition will change from one feed to the next as your body responds intelligently to ‘read’ what your baby needs.
Babies who are breastfed for up to six months report fewer cases of childhood illnesses and conditions such asthma, eczema, obesity, diabetes and even leukemia for babies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
When your baby is sick your breast milk produces more leukocytes—infection-fighting cells—that will help your little one ward off the illness.
Scientists hypothesize that when a baby suckles, some of the saliva makes its way back up the breast to provoke this immune response from mom.
Moms Nutrition Is Important Too
Although our bodies are clever enough to adapt to our baby’s growing nutritional demands, the amount and types of vitamins in breast milk is directly related to what we eat.
A varied and well-balanced diet should provide us moms with the necessary nutrition, which includes fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
After birth many moms are deficient in vitamin D, so it’s worth checking with your doctor to see if you need supplements. They may also suggest vitamin D supplements for your infant.
Vitamin B12 is important too—it’s vital for production of red blood cells, DNA and the functioning of the nervous system.
It’s usually found in meat and dairy, so vegetarians and vegans need to look for fortified foods or supplements.
For those of us who don’t breastfeed, it’s reassuring to know that infant formulas are fortified to make them as close to human milk as possible and give babies all the nutrients they need.
If your child has an allergy or intolerance to lactose or protein, there are goat, soy- or rice-based, or protein hydrolysate versions available that a pediatrician will be able to advise on.
TIP: Full fat cow’s milk should not be introduced until 12 months (see more below).
6-12 Months: First Tastes
From six months, it’s advised you supplement milk feeds with the introduction of solid foods—which is called weaning.
There are certain signs that indicate your baby is ready to be weaned: they’re curious about the parent’s food, are still hungry after a normal milk feed (although this could just be a growth spurt), and are making chewing motions.
Babies should also be able to sit up and have good hand-eye co-ordination.
Try starting with a few teaspoons of pureed vegetables, fruits, or baby rice porridge—before or after milk—once a day.
See how your baby takes it before gradually increasing solids with two and then three sittings a day.
There are two schools of thought on weaning: spoon-fed or baby-led.
Spoon-fed is where the parent feeds the baby meals; baby-led involves providing the baby with small pieces of soft food and allowing them to use their fingers to eat.
It’s also common to fall somewhere in the middle.
At this stage nutrition isn’t really important as they’re still getting their nutrition through milk – it’s about experimenting with textures and flavors, getting them used to eating.
In the first 12 months, skip these ingredients:
- Honey – can contain bacteria which leads to botulism.
- Added Salt — your baby’s kidneys can’t digest a whole heap of salt.
- Added Sugar — give sugary food and drinks a miss to avoid tooth decay, using fruit or milk to sweeten food instead.
- Soft eggs — the yolk should be cooked until it’s solid to protect against salmonella.
- High-mercury fish —such as swordfish, shark, tilefish or king mackerel.
6-12 Months: More Tastes
After the initial weaning stage, you can start feeding your little ones a wider range of foods, with more flavors and textures.
Some meats and dairy can be introduced, as well as beans, bread and pasta.
Soft pieces of fruit or vegetables will help them to start chewing—just be sure to watch them carefully for choking.
By the nine- to 12-month period, infants need a wider range of foods to obtain all the recommended vitamins and minerals.
Your baby’s initial stores of iron start to drop off so you need to introduce an iron-fortified formula, red meats, dark green veg or pulses to help with their production of red blood cells.
Vitamin C helps with the absorption of this iron, so it’s a good idea to include fruit in baby’s meals.
Full-fat dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese are welcomed as they are rich in vitamin A, which helps with bone growth and protection from infection.
At the one-year mark, it is safe to start swapping out breast milk or formula with cow’s milk (or alternative).
Just ensure you go for a full-fat version so it replaces the necessary nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, fats and protein.
TIP: For more information on weaning and starter recipes, Annabel Karmel’s The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner is very popular.