March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
The choices parents make in feeding their infants can have a lifetime impact on your child's health and weight. Research shows breast-feeding can reduce the risk of ear infections, stomach viruses and childhood leukemia. It also increases children's chance of having a healthy weight later in life.
The first year is when humans grow fastest. Most babies double their birth weight by 5 to 6 months old and triple it by one year. Health care providers check height and weight at each visit to make sure infants are gaining enough, but not too much, weight. Some studies suggest early overfeeding and excessive weight gain during infancy may increase the risk of childhood weight problems later on.
Supporting Normal Eating and Healthy Growth
Take a balanced approach to weight gain during your baby's first years. Parents should not put babies or children on diets or restrict their intake of nutrient-rich foods.
Your goal is to help infants regulate their own food intake based on internal cues of hunger and fullness. This helps them eat what they need for healthy growth and development. Discuss your baby's weight gain pattern with your health care provider at every checkup so you know how your child is growing.
Food Timeline for the First Two Years
All babies are unique individuals. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist about the nutrient-rich foods your baby needs and when to introduce them. Here are the usual age ranges for moving infants from breast milk to table foods.
- Birth to 6 Months: Babies get all the nutrients they need from breast milk for the first six months. Infant formula is an acceptable alternative when mothers decide to decrease or discontinue breast-feeding. You should not give your baby cow's milk until after age 1.
- By 4 to 6 Months: While most babies are ready to eat solid foods now, they will continue to get most of their calories, protein, vitamins and minerals from breast milk or infant formula. Introduce iron-fortified infant cereal or pureed meats to help replenish iron reserves.
- By 6 to 8 Months: This is an appropriate time to begin pureed or mashed fruits and vegetables. Gradually introduce single-item foods one at a time. Watch carefully for any reactions such as diarrhea, vomiting or unusual rashes.
- By 7 to 10 Months: Babies are usually ready to begin feeding themselves with finger foods, such as dry cereal or teething biscuits. They also can begin to use a cup for water.
- By 8 to 12 Months: At this stage, most infants are ready for soft or cooked table foods.
- From 1 to 2 Years: Babies continue developing eating skills. They feed themselves and enjoy the same foods as the rest of the family. Choking on firm, round foods is a risk, so cut these foods into smaller, ¼-inch squares.
- Look out for other choking hazards, including nuts and seeds, popcorn, pretzels, raw carrots and celery, whole olives and cherry tomatoes, hot dogs, whole grapes, large pieces of meat, hard candy and cough drops, chewing gum, gummy candy, marshmallows and cherries with pits.
For more information on helping your child get started eating right, see: