The first year after birth is a time for physical growth and maturation of infants. It is necessary to incorporate the proper nutrition into an infant's diet to promote the future health, growth and development of the child.
Some of the most common questions regarding infant nutrition are:
• Should I breast-feed or bottle feed?
• Is my infant developmentally ready for solid foods?
• What other types of fluids can I feed my child?
Nutrition feeding guidelines
During the first year of life, normal infants triple their weight and increase their length by 50 per cent. This rapid growth rate demands the right amount of energy and nutrients. However, during infancy, organ systems are not fully matured and therefore the ability to digest, metabolize and excrete nutrients is not fully developed. For this reason, it is important to provide sufficient energy and nutrients to support growth and development – without providing an amount of nutrients that may be too much for the infant's organs to handle. Ideal feeding during the first year of life would be exclusive breastfeeding with age-appropriate foods added at 4-6 months, while breastfeeding continues.
Page 1 of 4 – Learn about the benefits of breastfeeding on page 2.
There are many reasons why breastfeeding is the ideal method of feeding to support an infant's growth and development.
The benefits for an infant who is breast-fed include:
1. Colostrum is a thick, sticky fluid secreted for approximately three days before a mother's milk is produced. Colostrum is filled with nutritional benefits and acts as a laxative to kick start the infant's digestive tract. This essential fluid is also filled with protective antibodies and is high in protein and fat soluble vitamins.
2. Studies show breast milk is one of the most effective ways to protect against the development of allergies. Children who are breastfed tend to suffer less from allergies, asthma, digestive disorders and eczema. Breast milk provides these benefits because it is loaded with white blood cells and immunoglobins, which help to ward off potential infection. In particular, Immunoglobin IgA helps to protect the infant's immature digestive tract from potential pathogens. Lactoferrin, found in breast milk, also helps to block the growth of certain iron-dependent bacteria in the digestive tract.
3. Breast milk contains Docosahexanoic acid (DHA), a derivative of the essential fatty acid omega 3, which is necessary for the healthy development and function of the brain and eyes.
4. Possible reduced incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and certain chronic diseases later in life such as type I diabetes, lymphoma, breast cancer, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
The maternal benefits of breast feeding include:
1. Mothers who breastfeed tend to physically and psychologically bond with the child.
2. Studies show breastfeeding moms have a reduced risk for ovarian and breast cancer.
3. Moms who breast feed tend to experience easier weight loss.
The optimum time for babies to be breastfed is one year. However, most research indicates that only about 20 per cent of all infants are breastfed until the age of 5-6 months. Different reasons have been cited by moms as to why breastfeeding is not tried or continued, such as insufficient milk production, difficulty of infant latching on or pain and sore nipples. If one year is not an option for you, the first six weeks of life is when the child's immune system is most susceptible to infection. Breast milk provides the protection that the infant needs during this critical time.
If you are exclusively breastfeeding your infant, a vitamin D supplementation will be required. In addition, at 4-6 months, additional iron is needed and is typically added by beginning to eat cereal.
For more information on breast feeding, contact:
• La Leche League at www.lalecheleague.org
Page 2 of 4 – Learn all about formula-feeding your baby on page 3.
Infant formulas are the most acceptable feeding option for infants that are not breastfed or partially breastfed. Infant formulas fortified with iron provide sufficient energy and nutrients to promote adequate growth. However, formulas are missing the protective and immunological benefits breast milk can provide.
The following are two of the different types of formulas to choose from:
1. Dairy-based formulas
When choosing a dairy-based formula (cow's milk protein), it is recommended you choose one that has been hydrolyzed. The label will read 'protein hydrolysate' or 'predigested formula'. This means the milk protein has been broken down into smaller, more absorbable protein particles to help an infant's immature digestive tract digest the protein molecules, thus reducing the chance of an allergic response. Signs and symptoms of an allergic response to dairy include skin reactions, diarrhea, spitting up, colic, chronic crying and breathing problems.
2. Soy-based formulas
If a child reacts to a hydrolyzed dairy formula, a soy-based formula can be a good alternative. However, those who have sensitivity to dairy formulas may also show an allergic response to soy formulas. In this instance, speak with your doctor about other alternatives such as goat's milk or elemental formulas.
Page 3 of 4 – Learn about dairy and soy formula alternatives and find out which other liquids are unsafe for your baby to drink on page 4.
1. Cow's milk
Cow's milk is not recommended during the first year of life. An infant's intestinal tract is immature and is unable to screen out the large protein molecules that cause allergies. Cow's milk, wheat, fish or egg whites are the common food allergies during infancy and should be avoided. Also, during the first six months, the renal solute load (protein, sodium, potassium and chloride) of cow's milk may be too high for the infant's immature kidneys to excrete.
2. Goat's milk
Although goat's milk is more similar to human milk than cow's milk, it is inappropriate as the main liquid for infants to drink. Once milk is introduced, organic goat's milk may be tried as an alternative to cow's milk if your infant suffers from a cow's milk allergy.
3. Soy, rice and other vegetarian beverages
Soy beverages are also not a suitable substitute to human milk or infant formula in infants, as they have very low protein (except soymilk) and fat contents. Malnutrition has been reported in infants fed vegetarian beverages as their sole source of nutrition.
4. Fruit juices
If infants are fed fruit juice, the volume should be limited to avoid interfering with the intake of breast milk or infant formula. Excess fruit juice can cause diarrhea due to the high sorbitol and fructose content. Too much fruit juice can also lead to an inadequate intake of nutrients, poor weight gain, failure to thrive and dental concerns.
5. Other beverages
Fruit drinks, soft drinks and sports drinks are not recommended for infants due to their high sucrose content. Beverages containing caffeine and theobromine are not recommended due to the stimulant affect on the body.
6. Herbal teas
Tea contains no nutrients and may reduce an infant's intake of nutrient-dense fluids and foods. Also, some concern has been raised about the safety of herbal teas in infants after a reported case of toxic effects of herbal teas on an infant. At this time, herbal teas are not recommended for feeding infants.
Dr. Joey Shulman D.C., RNCP, is author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley, 2003) and The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005). For more information, visit www.drjoey.com.
Page 4 of 4 – Find out the nutritional guidelines for your infant on page 1.