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.
Until solid foods are introduced – preferably at about six months – breast milk can be a complete source of nutrition for infants. However, three nutrients may warrant additional consideration. Ask your doctor for advice.
Iron. Iron is important for the manufacture of hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron also is essential for your baby's brain development and growth.
Premature infants who breast-feed may need iron supplementation earlier. They had less time to build adequate iron reserves before birth.
Fluoride. Your baby's teeth started to develop even before you could see them. Fluoride, a mineral often found in tap water, helps develop strong teeth and prevent cavities later.
Breast milk contains little fluoride – even if the mother's drinking water is fluoridated. If your breast-fed infant takes supplemental formula made with fluoridated water – at least 0.3 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride – your baby may get enough fluoride. If your child is breast-fed only or drinks formula made with well water, distilled water, unfluoridated bottled water or city unfluoridated water, your doctor may advise a fluoride supplement starting at about six months. Breast-fed infants who take supplemental ready-to-use formula also may need a fluoride supplement; these formulas usually are prepared with water low in fluoride.
Vitamin D. This vitamin helps your baby use calcium from breast milk (and infant formula) to help bones grow and develop. When it is exposed to sunlight, the body can make vitamin D – but a baby's skin should be protected from sunlight with sunscreen or clothing.