Babies are miraculous growers during their first year of life. From tiny sleeping newborns to animated little pre-toddlers, all of that growth in those 12 months requires serious nutrition. Luckily, breast milk and iron-fortified formulas supply just the right balance of key nutrients to support that fast moving development—and babies will get most of their nutrition from one of those two sources during their first year of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics reccomends starting solids between 4-6 months, when your baby is physically ready. And it's best to wait 3 days before adding a new food to determine if there is any allergic reaction.
Curious about what important nutrients baby needs? Here are just a few that help with your baby's growth and development.
Iron is an essential nutrient for life. As a part of hemoglobin, a component found in red blood cells, it helps carry oxygen throughout the body. During their first 4-6 months, babies will have a sufficient store of iron, built up during their days in-utero. After those 4-6 months, those stores become depleted. Luckily breast milk and iron-fortified formulas supply iron, but it probably won't be enough, especially when solid foods are introduced. That's why it's important to find iron-rich foods that help your baby meet her need of 11 milligrams each day. Good sources of iron include meat, poultry, and eggs as well as vegetarian sources such as beans, iron fortified cereals, whole grains, spinach, broccoli, apricots, prunes, and raisins. The introduction of these foods depends on your baby's development; that's why it's always best to consult your baby's pediatrician prior to starting solid foods.
Boost your baby's brain and eye development, as well as immunity with omega 3 fatty acids. DHA and EPA, types of omega 3 fatty acids, are required for life, but our bodies cannot produce them. That means we have to pay particular attention to making sure we (including baby) consume them. You can start introducing oily fish such as salmon, a powerful source of this unsaturated fat, around 6 months of age. While there are many types of oily fish that contain omega 3 fatty acids, they also contain high levels of mercury. That's why we recommend salmon, which is low in mercury. Baby can also safely consume other low-mercury fish such as whitefish, which supplies some omega 3 fatty acids. You can also try omega 3 eggs. The chickens who lay these eggs have been given feed that contains a source of omega 3 fatty acids. Just be sure to read the label on the carton; it will clearly state the eggs have additional omega 3 fatty acids.
Protein packs a lot of punch in terms of your baby's growth and development. Why? Because it is literally a part of every cell in their body - working hard to build, maintain and repair body tissues. Proteins are made up of amino acids, the "building blocks" of protein. Some of these amino acids are "essential", meaning the body can't make them. That means baby needs to acquire them from food. Luckily, there's just the right amount of protein in breast milk and iron-fortified formula. And when baby starts solids, there are plenty of protein-rich foods babies can try such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. Baby also gets protein from non-animal sources such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, as well as some fruits and vegetables. (Some baby food pouches even offer fruit-and-grain combos). Make sure your baby gets protein from a variety of sources.
You know babies need calcium for bone health, but did you know they also need vitamin D to help those growing bones? "Vitamin D is important for bone mineralization as well as immunity, says Angela Lemond, RDN and Board Certified as a Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition. Angela recommends baby gets 400 IU daily of Vitamin D each day. She points out that breastfed or partially breastfed babies need supplemental vitamin D whereas formula-fed babies receive adequate amounts of Vitamin D in their formula. To get that extra vitamin D, your pediatrician may recommend an over-the-counter liquid supplement. And although cow's milk is a source of vitamin D, it is not recommended for infants during their first year of life. (Yogurt is okay.)
Zinc is an important mineral in your baby's growth and development as it's required for making proteins and DNA. Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, notes that zinc "also plays a key role in maintaining immune function. Babies who are deficient in zinc (which is rare especially in the United States) can have impaired growth, and an increased susceptibility for infections." How much does your baby need? Infants between 0 to 6 months of age require 2 milligrams of zinc per day and children 7 months to 3 years old need about 3 milligrams of zinc per day. According to Sheth, "Formula will adequately meet babies' zinc needs up to the age of 1. However, after 6 months of age, it is critical that breast-fed babies are introduced to zinc-rich foods to adequately meet their nutritional needs." One easy way to do that? Sheth recommends adding 2 tablespoons of fortified cereal twice a day along with 1-2 ounces of pureed or finely choped meats to easily provide the recommended zinc intake.