When Michelle Hamer became a first-time mom, she realized quickly just how little she knew about infant nutrition. "I had a lot of questions about how much to feed and what a child should be eating."
Hamer's not alone. According to Dr. Nessa Bayer, a Toronto pediatrician and mother of two, new parents are overwhelmed by so many things when baby comes home, and the amount of information out there makes it even more confusing. "Infant nutrition is just one of the things they're trying to find out about, and it's hard to get all the messages straight," she says.
So, what are the truths and falsehoods of infant nutrition? Dr. Bayer tackles some of the most common concerns in this true or false quiz.
Mothers should breastfeed for at least six months
True. "Breastfeeding is the best. It is recommended to keep breastfeeding until six months of age and even up to two years," says Dr. Bayer. The World Health Organization agrees, adding that breast milk promotes sensory and cognitive development, protects infants against infectious and chronic diseases, reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses and promotes faster recovery during illness.
All infant formulas are the same
False. If a mother doesn't breastfeed,Health Canada and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend an iron-fortified formula for all formula-fed infants. Most infant formulas are made with cow's milk; choose a soy-based alternative if your infant is allergic to the proteins in cow's milk formula or can't tolerate lactose. Still, there are even more variations on drugstore shelves.
When selecting a formula, Dr. Bayer suggests following the ABCs of infant nutrition:
• A is for Allergy. Partially hydrolized or "protein hydrolysate" formula is easier to digest and less likely to cause allergic reactions than cow's milk formula because the proteins have already been broken down.
• B is for Baby's digestion. Opt for 100 per cent whey protein. "Cow's milk protein is composed of both casein and whey, and whey is the one that's easier to digest," says Dr. Bayer.
• C is for Contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in breast milk. Some formulas are enhanced with DHA and ARA, which are omega-3 fatty acids and thought to be important for infant eyesight and brain development. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, research is inconclusive about the benefits of adding the fatty acids to infant formula.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn more about introducing new foods to your baby on page 2
Too much iron causes constipation
False. Although many infants become constipated from certain formulas -- and switching to a lower-iron formula tends to dissipate the problem -- there is no link between iron-fortified formulas and constipation, says Dr. Bayer. It's OK to switch to a lower-iron formula for a couple of months, but do return to the recommended iron-fortified by the time your infant reaches four months of age, when the store of iron passed to your baby via the placenta runs out. "If babies become iron deficient it can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, which can cause developmental problems later on," explains Dr. Bayer.
New foods should be introduced one at a time
True. By six months of age, baby will need solid foods to supplement the nutrients in breast milk or formula. The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) recommends beginning with the least allergenic foods first and those with iron, such as rice cereal, then moving on to other single-grain infant cereals, vegetables, fruits, and then meats. Egg whites, honey, citrus and peanut butter should only be introduced after one year of age as they can cause an allergic reaction. The CPS also recommends introducing new foods one at a time, waiting three to four days before moving to the next new food, to ensure your child is not allergic.
Infancy is not the time to worry about weight
True. While doctor visits routinely involve weight checks, the number on the scale and baby's percentile placement shouldn't overshadow healthy eating. "With infant nutrition, it's really about making sure they're getting the right nutrients in up until six months whether through breast milk or equivalent formula," explains Dr. Bayer. When infants start solids, then it's time to provide a diet full of nutritious foods from all food groups. "What they're like as babies doesn't mean what they're going to be like when they're older," says Dr. Bayer, referring to an infant's weight, adding that you should just be sure you're aware of what the right nutrition is and what's recommended.
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have about getting your child off to a great start.
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