Nutrition-wise blog

Infant feedings: Don't rush the transition

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. November 5, 2008

In the span of the first 12 months of life, the changes an infant experiences in growth and development are extraordinary. It is exciting for everyone — infant, parents, grandparents, and extended family and friends.

Parents guide infants through the feeding transitions from exclusively breast milk and/or formula feedings to a diet of complementary foods. And feedings, like any other developmental milestone, invite advice, some in line with current recommendations, some not.

If it worked 10, 20 or 40 years ago, and we turned out OK, it is still good advice, right?

A large survey of mothers of infants was conducted recently to assess the feeding practices during the first year of life. I was surprised at some of the results — early solid food feedings were associated with decreased length of breast-feeding (both unfavorable), delay of nutrient dense foods and introduction of high sugar, fat, and low nutrient dense foods sooner.

As a parent, there is not a month that goes by that I don't receive a mailing or link to a Web site with infant feeding information. Beyond the colorful advertisements, product endorsements, and coupons, the information is generally appropriate. Does the "good information" get lost in packaging? Are parents getting the information but deferring to family and friends for "tried and true" advice (well intended but not necessarily ideal)?

Are parents too sleep-deprived or overwhelmed to retain the appropriate information? Are they so anxious to get through the first year that breast-feeding is dropped and feeding transition is sped up?

Glossy advertisements aside, here are highlights of appropriate feeding practices in an infant's first year:

  • Breast-feed.
  • If you unable to provide breast milk, use an iron-fortified formula for the full first year of life.
  • Do not provide solid foods before 4 months of life. No need to rush, they do not require another source of iron and zinc until 6 months.
  • First food — single grain, iron and zinc fortified cereal.
  • Second food — consider meat over vegetables and fruit. Meat is a better source of protein, iron, and zinc.
  • Feed single ingredient foods.
  • Feed your child every 2-4 hours; frequent, nutritious meals ensure varied and adequate nutrient intake.
  • Babies don't need juice.
  • A starting portion for solids, 1 tablespoon. Feed this and offer more until the baby turns its head away, pushes away, or gives a cue that the meal is complete.
  • Transition textures gradually after 8 months.
  • Avoid foods that are a choking risk.

While in the midst of parenting, you may be tired, anxious, and missing details. Feeding/meal time is a perfect time to sit, relax, enjoy, and reflect on all the remarkable moments that you and your baby are experiencing. Don't rush; it will go faster than you'd like it on its own.

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Nov. 05, 2008