Breast milk is still the preferred (and only) food that most babies need for the first six months of life. And breastfeeding should continue until the first year if possible. Use an iron-fortified infant formula when breast milk is not available, experts say.
Barbara Quinn Tribune News Service
When I was a young nutritionist, I used to criticize my mom for how she cooked for us as kids.
“You overcooked the vegetables,” I once remarked to her.
To which she replied, “Gosh, it’s a miracle that you children have ever grown up so long!”
Generations are finding new ways to feed children. Still, some basics of proper nutrition are preserved year after year. And that’s what I found in the latest Infant Feeding Advice in the recently released American Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025. Here are some highlights of what is new and what remains true:
- Breast milk is still the preferred (and only) food that most babies need for the first six months of life. And breastfeeding should continue until the first year if possible. Use an iron-fortified infant formula when breast milk is not available, experts say.
- Iron-rich foods should be added to the baby’s diet around 6 months of age for optimal neurological development and growth. (Iron supplies from birth decline by 6 months, and breast milk is not a good source of this essential mineral.) Iron-rich foods include meat, seafood, and iron-fortified cereals.
- In addition to iron, babies around 6 months of age need more zinc-rich foods for adequate growth and strong immunity. Grains, beans, and meat fortified with zinc are good sources of this essential mineral.
- Around 6 months of age is also the best time to introduce babies to foods from all food groups. (I call them nutrient groups because each category contains a mix of nutrients needed for optimal growth and health.) These groups include baby-friendly vegetables, grains, fruits, protein, and yogurt and cheese, including soy-based varieties. Experts continue to advise withholding cow’s milk until the age of 1 year.
- Other foods to avoid in the first year of life are honey (due to the risk of botulism) and unpasteurized foods and drinks.
- And here is a real change: New findings now show that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods does not help prevent food allergies. In fact, parents are now advised to introduce foods like peanuts, eggs, cow’s milk products, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish, fish, and soy, all while introducing other foods into the baby’s diet – by around 4 to 6 months of age. Studies show that gradually introducing these foods along with other new foods between the ages of 4 and 6 months can reduce the risk of developing allergies, including peanut allergies.
- One final point: babies are born with a taste for sweets. That is why they cling to breast milk; It is high in natural sugar lactose. However, we don’t have to feed the baby’s sweet tooth with a lot of added sugar. Look for foods and beverages that are free from added sugars for your sweet little bundle of joy.
Barbara Quinn is a registered nutritionist. Email them at [email protected].
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