By Nancy Gottesman
Here’s good nutrition news: Infants are being breastfed longer, and fewer babies and toddlers are eating sweets than earlier in this decade. The bad news: Many toddlers aren’t eating a single serving of vegetables or fruit on any given day and are consuming too much saturated fat. So says the 2008 Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), a report on eating habits of 3,378 children age 0 to 4 years. More highlights of the report:
» Seventeen percent of 6- to 8-month-olds had a sugary drink or sweet on a given day versus 36 percent in 2002. Among 9- to 11-month-olds, it was 43 percent in 2008 and 59 percent in 2002.
» Fourteen percent of 12- to 14-month-olds consume sugary drinks; 29 percent of 18- to 20-month-olds do.
» Twenty-five percent of older infants and toddlers don’t eat a single serving of fruit on a given day; 30 percent don’t eat a serving of vegetables.
» Twenty-three percent of 12- to 24-month-olds and 33 percent of 3- to 4-year-olds have diets that comprise less than the recommended 30 to 40 percent of calories from fat; 75 percent of preschoolers are getting too much saturated fat.
Experts conclude that more vigilance is needed during the transition from breast milk and baby foods to table foods. “This has to do with parents’ eating habits,” says pediatrician Alanna Kramer, MD, of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. “If mom and dad eat well, kids will, too.” The foods you serve your child now lay the foundation for his eating habits for the rest of his life. Here’s how to start your baby’s diet off right.
Why breast is best
Word is out about the tremendous health benefits associated with breastfeeding. In the 21st century, 77 percent of new moms now nurse their babies for some period of time—up from 60 percent in the 1990s, report the Centers for Disease Control.
In addition, mothers are nursing infants longer: The 2008 FITS report found that 33 percent of 9- to 11-month-olds consumed breast milk compared to just 21 percent in 2002. This is great news!
Human milk is the perfect food for babies. It has just the right nutrients for early development and antibodies for disease protection. It is so far superior to alternatives (e.g., formula) that the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with many other health organizations, recommends that you breastfeed your baby
exclusively for six months.
Breastfeeding confers significant benefits to both mom and baby. It decreases the incidence of infant diseases such as bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory tract infection, otitis media, urinary tract infection, and necrotizing enterocolitis and lateonset sepsis in preemies. In fact, the mortality rates of breastfed babies are reduced by 21 percent, and some research shows decreased rates of SIDS among them during the fi rst year of life. Nursing your child in infancy may also help as he grows by reducing his risk for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkins disease, overweight, obesity and asthma. Meanwhile, women who breastfeed experience decreased postpartum bleeding, an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and reduced risk of cancers of the breast and ovaries.
Beat Breastfeeding Challenges
Breastfeeding is a learned skill and can be frustrating. “The first challenge is learning how to breastfeed when you’re sleep deprived from labor and delivery,” says Rhonda Valdes- Greene, RN, IBCLC, a nurse and International Board Certifi ed Lactation Consultant at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center in New York. New moms can tackle this obstacle by identifying a breastfeeding support person before the baby is born, suggests Valdes-Greene. Take a class from a qualifi ed lactation expert while you’re pregnant. You’ll learn to handle obstacles you may face, and you’ll have someone to call if you have problems after the baby is born. Hospital nurses and lactation consultants can help you and your baby master the latch, which is tricky for some babies. These experts can also answer other breastfeeding questions. More secrets to success:
Nurse on demand
Experts encourage women to breastfeed within 30 to 60 minutes after birth and about eight to twelve times a day— whenever your baby is hungry (every two to three hours). Breastfeeding is based on supply and demand: The more your baby nurses, the more milk your body will produce. After a few weeks, your milk supply will adjust to meet your baby’s needs. To help prevent soreness, remember to air-dry your nipples after each feeding.
Once or twice a day, pump extra milk from each breast right after nursing, or 60 to 90 minutes after nursing, so you can store some for caregivers to use later. This will also help maintain your supply if you go back to work and can only pump, rather than nurse, during the day. If you won’t be able to pump at work, prior to going back, train your body not to make milk during work hours by gradually decreasing one feeding during those hours per day and replacing it with breast milk you’ve stored or formula. If exclusive breastfeeding isn’t possible, don’t feel guilty. Some breastfeeding will still confer health benefits to you and your baby.
Take care of yourself
For the first six weeks after birth, do nothing but rest and let your baby nurse on demand. As the baby grows, he’ll nurse less frequently and you’ll have more time for other tasks. Eat healthfully, rest as much as possible and drink plenty of fluids.
NEXT: 4 months to 1 year
4 months-1 year
Most babies are ready to eat solid foods between 4 and 6 months old. Although infants don’t need anything but breast milk until they’re 6 months old, some babies— those who have the most head control—are ready to start earlier. (Don’t believe the myth that feeding your baby solids early will help him sleep!) Some guidelines:
Start with iron-fortified rice cereal.
“It’s easily digested and has a low incidence of allergies,” explains Ashley B. Hotle, RD, LDN, a pediatric dietitian at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. “The fortifi ed iron will help your baby start building his iron stores.” A good ratio is 1 tablespoon of cereal to 1 ounce of fl uid (preferably breast milk). Always feed it to your baby from a spoon; do not add cereal to a bottle.
Wait three days between new foods.
In three days, if your baby shows no signs of allergy, you can try another kind of oats or barley. Allergic reactions include any of the following: vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, blood in stool, irritability or skin rashes. By introducing new foods one at a time every three days, you’ll be able to pinpoint allergies or food sensitivities.
Offer veggies before fruits.
“If a baby is exposed to the sweetness of fruits first, she may not like vegetables the first time,” says Hotle. Good starter vegetables include green beans, sweet potatoes and peas. Eight-to 9-month-olds can start eating pureed meats.
Mix solids with breast milk.
A study in Pediatric Research found that breastfed infants showed increased acceptance of new foods when they were mixed with mom’s milk. Combine it with veggies, fruits and meats as well as cereal.
Avoid sugary foods entirely.
Infants less than 1 year old should not consume soda, juices or desserts.
Handle With Care
For safety, “Always observe your baby during a feeding and afterward,” says Antonio Cain, RD, MBA, a dietitian and program coordinator of the Healthy Behavior program at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. And avoid offering your baby these for the first 12 months:
» Honey, which can cause infant botulism.
» Raisins, grapes (even if cut up), hot dogs (even if cut up), popcorn, candy, peanut butter, nuts and any food that requires chewing. All are choking hazards. To prevent choking, offer foods that dissolve in your child’s mouth.
» Common allergens, like dairy products, eggs, peanuts, nuts, wheat, soy and shellfish.
Healthy eating habits for your baby’s first year.