Infant Nutrition Tips Infant Nutrition Tips

Infant Nutrition Tips

Nutrition tips for babies

Through each stage of your baby’s growth and development the nutrients and energy they need are changing. It’s important to make sure that your baby is receiving all the nourishment they need to support every stage of their development. Like energy needs, a baby’s needs for protein, vitamins and minerals increase with age.

0–6 months: During their first 6 months, breast milk – or infant formula if you are not breastfeeding – provides all the nutrients, energy and fluids your growing baby needs. It’s recommended that babies be exclusively breast or formula-fed up to around 6 months of age.

6–12 months: From around 6 months of age you can start to introduce solid foods which will provide your baby with the extra nourishment they need at this next stage of their growth.

12–24 months: Once your child is comfortably eating solids, a wide range of foods should be offered to ensure adequate nutrition. Toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters, and you may need to offer new foods as many as 8–15 times before your child accepts the food.

Your baby will begin to show signs that they are ready for solids at around 6 months of age. When your baby is ready for solids you may notice that your baby:

  • Has good head and neck control and can sit upright when supported
  • Has lost the “extrusion reflex”, i.e. they stop pushing everything out of their mouth with their tongue
  • Has a growing appetite, and seems hungry even after a breast or bottle feed
  • Shows an interest in food, e.g. looking at what’s on your plate or watching you eat
  • Reaches out for your food
  • Opens their mouth when you offer them food on a spoon
  • Makes chewing motions with their mouth

It’s important to remember that solids don’t replace breastfeeding or infant formula. Your baby needs breast milk and/or formula along with solids until they are at least 12 months of age. If solid food replaces breast milk or formula too quickly, your baby could miss out on important nutrition.

From around 6 months of age, you can begin to introduce solids and gradually wean your baby from the breast or bottle. When you decide it’s time to introduce solids, it’s a good idea to wait until a time when you’re not rushed, and you and your baby are both relaxed.

It’s traditional to start your baby on rice cereal or a similar cereal, but for most babies you can start with any pureed solid food. Some good alternatives to rice cereal are pureed bananas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apples, peaches or pears.

Try the following when you’re first introducing solids:

  1. Before you offer your baby solids, give them their usual feed with breast milk or formula to satisfy their hunger and help them relax. They’ll still have room to try new foods after a feed.
  2. If you decide to start with a cereal, mix it with breast milk or formula. The familiar smell and taste will encourage your baby to try the food.
  3. Offer your baby one or two spoons of pureed food. Start with just a small amount on the end of a soft-tipped plastic spoon.
  4. If your baby doesn’t seem interested in eating off the spoon, be patient. Let them smell and taste the food to become familiar with it, or wait for another time to try again.
  5. Start with feeding solids once a day at a time that’s convenient for your baby. At first they may not eat very much, but as they get used to the experience they will begin to eat more. As the amount your baby eats increases, add another feed with solids.
  6. Introduce foods one at a time. Offer new foods once every 3–4 days to help your baby get used to the new flavours and to rule out any food allergy or intolerance.

Another approach that is gaining popularity is baby led weaning. The main idea behind baby led weaning is that the baby is control of what they’re eating right from the start. Baby led weaning foods are the same as whatever the family is eating, rather than specific “baby foods”,

If you decide to try baby led weaning, it’s important to cook the food until it’s soft, cut your baby’s food into very small pieces and monitor them closely to ensure they don’t choke.

As your baby is weaned from the breast or bottle, they will need to obtain more and more of the nutrients they need from solid foods. Maintaining your baby’s iron stores is particularly important when they begin to transition to solids, as by the age of 6 months the iron stores they built up in the womb will begin to run low.

  • Give your baby foods that are rich in iron and zinc, such as iron-enriched infant cereals, pureed meat and poultry dishes, cooked plain tofu and legumes/soy beans/lentils.
  • Give your baby plenty of whole, natural, unprocessed foods and avoid nutrient-poor foods such as cakes, biscuits and potato chips.
  • Cow’s milk products such as small amounts of full fat yoghurt, custard and cheese may be given, but avoid cow’s milk as a drink in the first 12 months. All milk used should be pasteurised.
  • Give your baby whole fruit rather than juice. Avoid fruit juices as they are high in sugar.
  • Don’t add sugar or honey to your baby’s food. Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks/foods.
  • Don’t add salt to your baby’s food. This is an important safety issue as babies’ kidneys take time to mature, and are unable to eliminate excess salt.
  • Avoid whole nuts, seeds or similar hard foods to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Keep feeding your baby if they’re ill, and feed them more after any illness. Give your baby plenty of fluid if they have diarrhoea,or use Novalac Diarrhoea to help rehydrate.
  • Occasional exposure of your baby’s skin to sunlight is usually enough to provide them with enough vitamin D, but this does vary between seasons and with skin colour.

Some babies may develop a food allergy during their first year of life. A food allergy happens when a baby’s immune system reacts to a normally harmless food protein as though it’s a threat. An allergic reaction is the body’s way of trying to fight the “dangerous” food protein.

Food allergy of any type occurs in up to 1 in 10 babies under the age of 12 months. The most common food allergies in children are to cow's milk, eggs, nuts, seafood, soy, and wheat. Most babies will grow out of their allergies as their digestive and immune systems mature.

Food allergy symptoms can occur immediately after eating a food and include hives, mild swelling of your baby’s lips, eyes and face, a runny or blocked nose, sneezing or an itchy mouth and irritated throat. Sometimes your baby may experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea.

In rare cases, babies may have a more severe reaction, causing them to have difficulty breathing or appear “floppy”. If you suspect your baby is having a severe allergic reaction, call an ambulance immediately.

Not all allergic reactions are immediate as sometimes your baby’s body can take longer to react to an allergen. Delayed allergic reactions are harder to spot, but can cause reflux, colic, diarrhoea/constipation, or rash, which is common in babies with a cow’s milk protein allergy.

All of these symptoms are common in babies, and an allergy is only one possible explanation. If you suspect your child may have a food allergy, talk to your doctor to get a proper diagnosis. They may advise a food intolerance elimination diet to confirm your baby is reacting to a particular food allergen. At present, there is no food allergy treatment apart from removing the allergenic food from the diet. Fortunately most children will eventually grow out of their food allergy.

Australian guidelines now recommend that all babies, including those at high risk of allergy, be given potentially allergenic foods before the age of 12 months.

When you first introduce these foods, give them to your baby in the morning so that you can watch them and easily respond to any reactions. Cooked eggs and peanut butter should be given in small amounts to start with. Try mixing a ¼ of a baby spoon into your baby’s usual food and gradually increase the amount if your baby doesn’t react.

If you notice any symptoms of allergy or any change in your baby’s well-being (e.g. becoming very unsettled) soon after giving a new food, they could be having an allergic reaction and you should seek medical advice. For severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing or becoming pale and floppy, call an ambulance immediately.

Further information about food allergies in babies is available from the ASCIA website at www.allergy.org.au