Good nutrition during your child’s first 2 years is vital for their health, growth and development.
Starting good nutrition practices early can help children develop healthy dietary patterns that they can carry through and benefit from during their entire lives.
However, knowing the importance of feeding your baby well only makes it more challenging and puts more pressure on parents when any challenges arise.
With one of your most important jobs as a new parent being to ensure your baby is feeding well, it’s critical you understand the basics of baby and toddler feeding, and how to solve those common problems related to breastfeeding, formula, or weaning onto solid foods.
Table of Contents
- Breast Feeding
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as well as the Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, all recommend that infants are exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months.
And after those 6 months end, experts advise you to continue breastfeeding, while introducing appropriate complementary foods (see our section on solids below) until your baby is 12 to 24 months of age.
The reason for this advice is because breastfeeding is good for mom and baby alike.
For baby, breast milk is typically the best source of nutrition, particularly because breastfeeding protects your baby from ear infections, diarrhoea, pneumonia and other childhood diseases because it can change to meet your little one’s nutritional needs.
Pretty incredible stuff right?
And for mom, breastfeeding is not only a wonderful bonding experience, but can also help protect you against some short and long-term illnesses and diseases, including lowering the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
One proxy for breast milk quality is the amount and quality of fat in your breastmilk, and if you’re concerned yours might not be fatty enough, the good news is there are things you can do to remedy this.
Some examples of how to make breast milk fattier include:
- Eating more healthy fats (think avocados, nuts, eggs and olive oil)
- Draining your breasts after a feed
- Pumping off your foremilk
- Feeding more frequently
- Compressing or massaging your breasts
Supply Variances From Side To Side
If you have noticed that one of your breasts is producing more milk than the other, or put another way one side is producing less milk than the other, it’s only natural to be concerned.
The truth is an uneven milk supply is a very common occurrence among moms who nurse and provided you believe your baby is getting enough milk and their nutritional needs are being met, then there’s noting to worry about.
Variances from side to side are perfectly normal and can be caused by a wide range of factors including one breast having less milk-making tissue, differences in letdown, differences in nipple shape, your baby preferring and gravitating towards one side, and you yourself consistently offering one breast over the other.
Sudden Drop In Supply On One Side
A sudden drop in milk production is also a common (not to mention alarming) occurrence, and can often be traced to one of several factors including stress, diet, dehydration, menstruation or skipping a feeding session.
The good news is there are solutions to get your supply back to normal, including offering the breast or side that has fallen in supply you your baby first, pumping or double pumping the side in question, massaging the breast and engaging in skin to skin.
You may also want to consider visiting a lactation consultant, as these certified health professionals specialize in breastfeeding issues and can help get to the bottom of what’s going on and suggest a plan of action.
Hot vs Cold
If you are not sure whether it’s fine to give your newborn cold breast milk, you are certainly not alone, because this has been the subject of debate for many years now.
It is indeed safe for babies to drink cold breast milk, provided your baby is full term.
Advocates of serving milk this way will tell you it saves time, eliminates the risk or overheating and is an easy routine to stick to when on your travels.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind some babies refuse a cold bottle (especially if they are used to having warm milk), and it may be less comforting to your little one.
If you do decide to warm your baby’s milk up, you may be considering buying a bottle warmer.
The decision as to whether these are worth it will come down to individual preference, because you may find these devices useful if your baby is mostly or exclusively bottle-fed, and you want to speed things up when preparing a bottle for a feed.
However, keep in mind bottle warmers certainly aren’t the only way to heat milk up, with other cheaper options being running the bottle under warm water, placing it in a container full of warm water for a few minutes, or setting the bottle out on your countertop until it warms up to room temperature.
For what it’s worth, my daughter liked her milk warmed up, but we always found that boiling water and a container did the job just fine, so we never felt the need to buy one.
That’s just what worked for us however, so your needs might differ depending on your individual situation.
As a side note, never use a microwave, because this can lead to hotspots in the liquid, which could burn your child’s tongue, lips, or mouth.
While we’re on the subject of gadgets, if you have decided you want or need to pump your milk then at some stage you’re going to have to decide on buying a manual or electric breast pump.
Once again, the answer will probably come down to your personal circumstances, because both have pros and cons.
Manual breast pumps have their advantages because they are cheaper, quieter and more portable, although they are slower, don’t enable you to go hands-free, and only allow you to pump one breast at time.
Electric pumps are unquestionably faster and will free up your hands, but they are more expensive, noisier, bulkier and may need a constant power source.
If you only plan on pumping occasionally, aren’t pressed for time, and want to save some money, then manual might be the better option, but if using your hands and saving some time is important, and you have the budget (the average electric pump costs $150), then electric may be the way to go.
Anytime I had to throw away my hard-earned (and pumped) breast milk I hated it, and I’m sure you’re the same.
- At room temperature (77°F or colder) for up to 4 hours.
- In the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- In the freezer: 6 months is best, although 12 months is acceptable. As a side note, there may be some white spots on your frozen breast which occurs when the fat separates from the rest of the milk, but this is nothing to worry about.
Although breast milk does expire, you might be surprised to learn this doesn’t mean that it should automatically be thrown out or dumped!
10 useful things you can do with breast milk instead of dumping it:
- Make Milk Lotion
- Use In Milk Baths
- Make Breast Milk Soap
- Create A First Aid Syringe
- Treat Stretch Marks
- Remedy For Sore Nipples (useful if you are planning to pump and dump after drinking alcohol or low-ABV drinks like kombucha)
- Treat Sunburn
- Make Popsicles (if still in date)
- Mix With Food or Cook With It (if still in date)
- Donate It (if still in date)
Formula sometimes gets a bad rep, but often that’s unfair because it’s a good alternative to breast milk.
To ensure product standards are high, the FDA imposes statutory and regulatory requirements for infant formula, and there must be a minimum of 29 nutrients in baby formula – all of this explains why baby formula is so expensive because it’s created to be the best possible alternative to breast milk.
Common reasons why parents choose formula include its convenience, flexibility and the ability to let their partner help out with feeds.
Additionally, if your baby is premature like my daughter was and needs extra calories, is having trouble latching on to the breast or you’re struggling to make enough breast milk, then formula is vital in ensuring your baby gets the daily nutrition they need.
Some of the words that adults use to describe the taste of baby formula include unsweet, sour, bitter, metallic, and fishy.
A lot of parents who have tried baby formula report that it’s unpleasant, and I can personally testify to this as well.
The reason is likely because most infant formula is fortified with added protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients including probiotics and prebiotics.
Some of these added ingredients can impart a bad taste – that’s why some people complain that added iron can taste “metallic”, while added fat is somewhat “fishy”.
For reference, the general consensus is that formula does not taste like breast milk – adults who have tasted breast milk often describe it as being quite sweet – certainly much sweeter than infant formula – and almost like a watered-down version of regular cow’s milk or like a sweetened version of almond milk.
If you think your baby doesn’t like the taste of the formula you’re giving them it’s worth noting that most retailers will allow you to return baby formula, provided you show a valid receipt, and the bottles are unopened and in good condition.
When you buy powdered formula it should always come with a measuring scoop, so you can portion out the exact amount of powder you need for your baby’s feed.
This will ensure you mix the formula in the correct ratio with your chosen water (distilled, tap, Nursery), so that your baby gets the exact amount of nutrients it needs per feed, and will also stop you wasting any expensive formula.
Just like breast milk, you can give your baby cold or warm formula.
In terms of safety, there is absolutely no problem with giving your baby cold formula milk, and provided your baby doesn’t refuse it, preparing a cold bottle can save you some valuable time before each feed.
It’s generally also fine and safe to switch formula brands, as well as mix different brands of the same formula type together.
If possible, it’s generally better to change your baby’s formula gradually so you can keep track of any side effects including intolerances – many nutritionists recommend making this change over a 1-2 week period if possible, to give your baby the best chance of liking the new formula and to avoid any potential stomach upsets.
When it comes to storage, the FDA does not recommend freezing baby formula, but parents still do so because in most cases formula that has been frozen should be safe for your baby to consume.
If you are considering freezing baby formula, it’s worth knowing that some side effects include the separation of ingredients, a change in texture, loss of taste and the loss of nutrients.
To avoid risking illness, baby formula should never be used beyond its best-before date, and it should be consumed within 30 days of opening.
As with all things to do with babies and safety, it’s best to err on the side of caution regarding formula that has appeared to have gone bad, so if you notice any of these signs you should throw your formula away:
- Past the expiry date
- Opened for more than 30 days (more on this below)
- Contents begin to separate
- Unpleasant odor and / or flavor
- Your baby refuses to drink it
Solutions For Baby That Fights Bottle
It’s fairly common for a baby to fight a bottle even if they are still hungry.
Some possible reasons include:
- Silent reflux
- Feeling unwell
- Uncomfortable equipment
- Preferring a different temperature milk
Knowing When Your Child Is Ready
Babies can start eating solids from around the age of 6 months.
If you are like me then the first time you heard this you might think it sounds way too early, but it’s worth remembering that babies do not need to have teeth before they can start eating solids.
However, what is important is that they are showing signs that they are ready to move on to solids, which include:
- Your baby can sit upright without needing any assistance.
- They can hold their head steady without excessive movement or bouncing.
- Your baby has the coordination to pick up an object by themselves and move it towards their mouth.
- They are beginning to show an interest in feeding themselves.
- Rather than spitting food straight out, your child can actually swallow food.
Dealing With That Boring Taste
Baby food tastes bland (or even bad) to adults, and there’s a good reason for this, and that’s the lack of salt – too much salt is bad for babies because their developing kidneys are not able to process the excess salt.
There are other ways to make baby food more interesting however, including adding herbs and spices such as basil, black pepper, coriander, ginger, oregano, paprika, thyme, and turmeric.
A food allergy is an abnormal response of the body to a certain food.
Parents should note that allergies are different from food intolerance – the latter does not affect the immune system, although some of the same symptoms may be present.
Around 90% of food allergies are caused by only eight foods: Milk, Eggs, Wheat, Soy, Tree nuts, Peanuts, Fish, and Shellfish.
Unfortunately, the development of food allergies cannot be prevented, although they can often be delayed by following the advice below:
- If possible, breastfeed your child for the first 6 months.
- Do not give your child solid foods until they are 6 months of age or older.
- Avoid cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts, and fish during your child’s first year of life.
When Babies Can Safely Eat Popular Foods
Vegetables are an important part of a baby’s diet because they provide a valuable source of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
The good news is vegetables that become soft when cooked and are easily blendable can be introduced from 6 months onwards. 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable (in pureed form) per day is a good amount at this age.
When your baby reaches 8 months to one year, the portion size should roughly double or triple in size to 4-8 tablespoons (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup).
Peas, carrots, broccoli, sweet potato, zucchini, cucumber, and spinach are all great examples of what to serve a young baby.
Meat is an excellent source of iron, zinc and protein, all of which are essential for your baby’s growth.
Once your baby starts eating solids, which is usually around 6 months, you should be fine serving them meat as provided it’s tender, easy to digest (thin small pieces or pureed) and unprocessed.
There are adverse health effects to eating too much (especially red) meat, so for babies – as well as older children and adults – the recommendation is to eat meat no more than 2-3 times per week.
Salmon is an excellent food for babies thanks to its brain-boosting properties and its high nutritional content, and this superfood can typically be introduced to babies from around 6 months of age thanks to its soft, flaky texture.
Pizza has a firmer texture compared to many other foods, so your baby will need to have developed their chewing and swallowing skills to some degree before they can tuck into a margarita.
A good rule of thumb is to start out with something simple, like cheese and tomato (margarita).
When it comes to the crust or base, whole-grain is generally a healthier option thanks to its higher fiber and protein content.
Toppings-wise, not all cheeses are created equal, so it’s worth noting that burrata, mozzarella, ricotta and goat’s cheese have a lot less salt (sodium) than parmesan.
Puffs are not a choking hazard because they are designed to melt in the mouth, and this means puffs can be introduced around the age of 6 months.
One thing to be aware of however is that they can become hard when they have been opened or been left out for too long, so it’s best to give your child only fresh puffs.
Original Cheerios are by far the best option because they contain up to 12 times less sugar than other flavors like Honey Nut, Frosted, and Cheerios.
Raw Apples can be a choking hazard for a baby thanks to their firm and hard texture, so they should be introduced with caution using very thin slices from the age of one to two.
Larger and thicker slices of raw apple should only be introduced once your baby is older, for example when they are approximately 3-4 years of age.
As a side note, experts advise that apple juice is not introduced until your baby is at least 12 months old, because fruit juice has more concentrated sugar than whole fruit.
Chocolate contains added sugar, which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children aged 2 or under should avoid completely.
Chocolate also contains caffeine, which is another substance pediatricians recommend children under the age of 12 avoid.
If your toddler is over 2 and you’re comfortable with them eating a small amount of added sugar and caffeine, then you may want to give them a little bit of chocolate, provided they are not allergic to any of the ingredients