As we all know, proper nutrition is the bedrock of proper child survival, growth, and performance. To put it differently, what your child eats or doesn’t eat during infancy can have lasting effects on their future development. There are specific diets required at particular stages of a baby’s developmental journey. Knowing this and acting accordingly will ensure the proper development of your baby.
Which Nutrients Does My Baby Need?
The first step to proper child nutrition is to identify which nutrients are vital for the proper growth and development of your child, as well as when they are most important. The next step is to stay within the normal range of these nutrients. Going beyond the upper and lower limits of these recommended values can cause significant harm to your child.
That being said, let’s take a look at some important macro-and micro-nutrients required for healthy growth, their functions, and their common dietary sources.
NB: Remember to give age-appropriate meals. We’ll speak more on this later on in the article.
These are nutrients required by your infant in relatively large amounts, typically in grams. They are necessary for providing the building blocks and fuel needed for proper metabolism and growth. They include:
These are complex biomolecules that are made up of even smaller molecules known as amino acids. Amino acids are the basic building blocks of different tissues within the body and are very important for growing children since they have rapid growth spurts. Important sources include milk (both breastmilk and non-human milk), beans, beef, fish, tofu, yogurt, peanut butter, chicken, and so on.
Despite the bad press carbs have been getting in recent years, they are essential and provide the energy needed to fuel metabolic processes within the body. Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source of the brain and muscles, meaning that young children need enough of them to promote the proper development of these organs. Some healthy carbs for growing children include breast milk, whole grain bread, brown rice, potatoes, crackers, pasta, and cereal.
NB: Remember to limit the amount of added sugars your child consumes. They should only be given as occasional treats, not meals. Some sources claim that added sugars should be avoided entirely in children below the age of two.
Lipids help in the proper development of the brain and nervous tissue. It also helps keep the skin and hair healthy and maintains body heat. It can also serve as a source of energy for the infant during times of increased demand. Great sources of lipids are breastmilk, butter, milk, cheese
Water is the universal medium within biological processes that take place. Adequate hydration is key for maintaining homeostasis and aids metabolism.
These nutrients are collectively referred to as “micro” nutrients not because they are any less important than the macronutrients, but simply because they are required in much smaller amounts.
Growing children usually require these nutrients in larger amounts than usual and not providing them in adequate amounts can have serious short-term and long-term consequences. Let’s take a look at some important micronutrients for growing kids.
Calcium is an important mineral that helps build strong, healthy bones and teeth. Important dietary sources include milk (both human and non-human milk), cheese, yogurt, and other calcium-fortified food.
Also known as folic acid, this nutrient promotes normal cell replication. Some important sources include green leafy vegetables (like spinach, cabbage, and kale), broccoli, peas, kidney beans, and so on.
This helps in the formation of red blood cells and is also necessary for proper brain development. It is usually found in inadequate amounts in breast milk. Important sources of iron are liver, red meat, fish, iron-fortified cereals, and egg yolks.
It helps cells grow and heal properly, especially epithelial cells such as those lining the digestive tract. It is also important for optimal immune function. Good dietary sources of zinc include whole grains, meat, fish, milk, chickpeas, and nuts.
We all know vitamin A helps in the development of good eyesight, but most people don’t know it’s important to the body’s immune system and also keeps the skin in good shape. Important sources include cod liver oil, fortified skim milk, eggs, fortified cereals, as well as orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.
The B vitamins are a group of chemical distinct micronutrients which perform very important roles in the metabolism of various macronutrients and cell replication. Some important examples include vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and vitamin B12 (cobalamins). Important dietary sources include whole-grain cereals, beef, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, and dark leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C helps in the production of collagen, an important protein that maintains the integrity of the different body tissues. It also ensures proper wound healing, is an antioxidant, and is an immune booster. Sources include citrus fruits, peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and so on.
This is an important factor in the absorption of calcium from the intestine. It also keeps the bones and teeth healthy. Vitamin D is generally deficient in breast milk, which is a very important fact for breastfeeding mothers to remember. Common sources include liver, egg yolks, red meat, oily fish (such as mackerel, salmon, sardines).
This is not truly a nutrient but is equally important to your little one. They are the so-called ‘good bacteria’ that can improve gut motility, protect your child from allergic reactions such as eczema, and may even prevent inflammatory bowel diseases later on in life. Some important sources include yogurt, kimchi, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, and so on.
What Are the Types of Newborn Diet?
So far this article has been focused on younger children, mostly between 1-5 years of age. Now let’s take a look at proper child nutrition in a very important and particularly vulnerable age group, infants. There are three main types of nutrition practiced in children below the age of one. They include:
1. Breast Feeding
2. Mixed Feeding
3. Complementary Feeding.
1. Breast Feeding
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that every newborn be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life and for good reasons. Human breast milk is an excellent combination of almost every macro-and micronutrient an infant needs. Furthermore, the composition of breast milk is dynamic. This means it changes to keep up with the demands of the growing child. As such it delivers the right balance of nutrients at any given time.
Also, breast milk supplies the baby antibodies to fight potential infections. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of developing allergies, diarrhea, tooth decay, obesity, etc later in life. It also supplies proteins that promote the baby’s cognition and sensory ability, as well as helps them maintain healthy skin.
What Are Some Key Tips For Successful Breastfeeding?
Although feeding the baby breast milk is perfect, doing so without the right technique can undermine the benefits. If you are breastfeeding your baby, below are tips that can help you do it better.
- Always feed the newborn on demand. In this case, whenever the baby cries you should breastfeed him/her or at least a total of 8-12 times in 24 hours.
- Make sure that the nipple and areola are inserted in the baby’s mouth and the chin of the infant touches the breast. This is the proper latching technique.
NB: Most mothers get this part wrong as they only insert the nipple into the baby’s mouth. If this practice is prolonged the mother’s nipple can develop fissures and may even bleed.
- Do not assume that if a baby sleeps off while suckling, it means he/she is full. One of the few relatively reliable signs the baby is full is he or she rejects the breast at the time.
- Do not rush through a feeding session. This is especially important because the first few ounces of fluid from the breast is majorly water, the nutrient-dense milk is released after a few minutes of breastfeeding.
2. Mixed Feeding
Breast milk is the best for baby feeding. However, sometimes mothers may choose to feed their infant instead with breast milk substitutes (more on this later). The reasons for this may be due to:
- Medical conditions in the mother and/or children such as an HIV-positive mother, conditions which affect the mother’s breast, infants who have certain inborn errors of metabolism such as galactosemia, phenylketonuria, or maple syrup urine disease.
- If the mother is on certain medications
- Maternal convenience
- Maternal death, maternal absence, and so on.
In such cases, formula feed is used either as alternatives (replacement feeding) or in combination with breast milk (mixed feeding).
What Are The Types Of Formula Milk?
Based on the makeup, there are three main types of formula milk you can commonly find. They include:
- Animal Milk Formula
- Soy-based Formula
- Protein Hydrolysate
NB: Pay apt attention to the manufacturer’s directives on how to prepare and store the formula once it is opened. Also, the shelf-life of the formula is very important. Always remember the responsibility lies with you as a parent to make sure the food is prepared in very hygienic settings.
3. Complementary Feeding
After the first six months of life, breast milk alone can no longer provide the nutritional requirements of the child. Hence, the need for the child to be introduced to an adult-like diet. In other words, a baby’s diet has to change from liquids to semi-solids and finally to solid meals, albeit slowly. This transition in feeding is termed ‘weaning’.
This transition period is a crucial one and should be treated as such. You have to take a very careful approach to the baby’s feeding, otherwise, growth might be retarded and the child may be exposed to certain short-term and long-term illnesses.
An important principle in transition feeding is that you have to start from meals that mimic breast milk in consistency, easily digestible, and very soft. So let’s take a look at what a baby can comfortably eat at 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months of age.
What Food Can My Baby Eat At 6 Months?
- Fruit juice
- Mashed fruits like mango, banana.
- Mashed beans, eggs.
- Iron-fortified cereals, cooked meat, and fish. Make sure you double- or triple-check the fish for bones.
What Food Can My Baby Eat at 9 months?
- Cooked and mashed beans
- Slices of banana
- Slices of cooked egg.
- Mashed meat.
What Food Can My Baby at 12 months?
- Grated pawpaw
- Tapioca enriched with milk
- Cooked eggs
- Broth from soup
Precautions to Be Taken During Complementary Feeding
- Make sure the food is well cooked and soft
- Maintain hygienic practices in preparing baby food.
- Always supervise the baby while he eats
- Double-check that the fish you give your baby for bones.
- Do not give the baby nuts, seeds, corn chips, chunks of carrots. This is because the baby can choke on them.
Babies are only concerned with eating, sleeping, and pooping. Out of those three, the eating part is heavily dependent on you. You have to do it judiciously since your baby’s growth and development depends on it. At first, feeding your baby may prove challenging because of the peculiarities and the frequency of feeding. But give it time and you will come to love it.