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By Michelle Maxwell, RD, LD
When it comes to pregnancy, we often worry first about all the foods we typically eat. Then, once the baby is born, we have to figure out what food we will need to provide for this new tiny person in our lives. Here are some tips to consider for your child’s first year of nutrition.
One of the biggest and most important things you can do is breastfeed. Breast milk is also known as liquid gold because it is the best thing that you can give to your baby. Did you know that African American moms have some of the lowest breastfeeding rates? Formula works better for children who have special needs or mothers who are unable to produce milk, but it should not be chosen for convenience.
Let’s address a few of the myths about formula. First off, it will never be as good as breast milk, no matter how much DHA they add. Breast milk contains antibodies, anti-virus, growth hormones, etc. All of these extras help to improve the immune system and reduce the risk of chronic diseases compared to formula-fed babies, and these are just a few of the benefits.
Secondly, formula is really not that much more convenient. Breast milk is always ready and at the perfect temperature for the baby. It takes much less time to breastfeed than it does to prepare and heat up a bottle of formula. Plus, there is a risk of food safety with formula, from recalls to simply incorrect mixing. I’ve heard moms say they choose formula because they don’t want the child to become spoiled or because they have to return to work soon. Breastfeeding will not spoil the child or prevent the mother from returning to work. Breastfeeding has several benefits for both mom and baby, and if you are unable to actually breastfeed, I would still strongly encourage that you to consider expressing your milk and bottle feeding before choosing formula. If you need help, please consider contacting your local WIC office or a certified lactation consultant.
Breast milk is the only food the child needs for the first 6 months of his/her life, and once foods are introduced, it is encouraged to continue breastfeeding until the child is at least 12 months. It is rare that a child needs solids before six months and the earliest recommendation is four months. Introducing solid foods too early can lead to discomfort and an increased risk of obesity within the child. When introducing foods, start with an iron-fortified cereal, preferably rice since it is less likely to be an allergen. Introduce new foods one at a time while paying close attention to any allergic reactions.
Breast milk is the only food the child needs for the first 6 months of his/her life, and once foods are introduced, it is encouraged to continue breastfeeding until the child is at least 12 months.
When the child is about 6-8 months begin with feeding him/her green vegetables first, then introduce fruits, whole grains and proteins. Many doctors recommend introducing meats early for zinc, but I would encourage you to consider non-meat protein options, at least for the first year. Research continues to show that plant based diets result in better health and limiting animal products can decrease the risk of several chronic conditions later on in the life of the child.
Breastfeeding has benefits that last a lifetime and feeding your child a plant based diet while limiting his/her intake of processed foods can set the stage for how they may eat as an adult. Infants, especially in the first year, don’t really need juice, candy or fried foods. Be a healthy example, and know that you play a huge role in the health and future eating habits of your child.
Michelle Maxwell, MS, RD received her B.S. and M.S. in Nutrition and Food Science from Florida State University.
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Tallahassee, FL 32301