NUTRITION FOR BABIES: BUILDING HEALTHY EATING HABITS FROM THE START | AFFINITY HEALTH 

by Tia

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health coverage, offers practical tips on ensuring your baby gets the nutrients it requires for a healthy start in life.

“Early nutrition for babies is fundamental for their growth, development, and overall well-being,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.

“According to the World Health Organization, the earlier you and your baby start healthy eating habits, the more likely they’ll be to develop a lifelong appreciation for nutritious foods, maintain a healthy weight, and enjoy optimal health outcomes throughout their lives.” 

Why is Early Nutrition Essential?

Babies grow rapidly in their first year of life. On average, babies gain about 28 grams in weight each month, with their birth weight typically tripling by the end of the first year. In terms of height, babies grow about 0.6 to 1.27 cm each month during their first year.

Early nutrition supports rapid growth and development during infancy and toddlerhood, ensuring babies reach their developmental milestones and establish a strong foundation for future growth. 

Nutrients like iron, protein, and essential fatty acids are crucial for infant brain development. They influence cognitive function, learning abilities, and overall brain health.

Getting the proper nutrition early in life can lower the chances of developing chronic diseases in adulthood, like obesitydiabetes, and heart conditions.

Starting Solid Foods

In the first few months of life, babies have relatively simple nutrition needs, primarily met through breast milk or formula. However, their dietary requirements significantly shift as they transition to solid foods. 

Babies usually start exploring solid foods at around six months old. Watch for signs of readiness that may include sitting up with assistance, displaying interest in your food, and pushing food to the back of their mouth with their tongue.

Single-grain cereals, such as rice or oatmeal, are traditional first foods due to their fortified iron content, which is crucial as the natural iron stores from birth begin to deplete by six months.

Once your baby is used to eating cereals, you can introduce more complex flavours and textures, such as pureed vegetables, fruits, and meats. Meals should be soft and easy to swallow, gradually moving towards more finely chopped and eventually small pieces of regular foods.

The Role of Breastfeeding

For the first year, breast milk or formula should be your baby’s primary source of nutrition.

As you introduce solid foods, you can continue breastfeeding or providing formula. Breast milk remains a source of vitamins, protein, and fat that are gentle on your baby’s tummy. 

Remember, deciding how long to breastfeed is a deeply personal choice for every mother, influenced by what feels right for both her and her child. There is no set time to stop breastfeeding.

Hydration

If infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, they usually do not need extra water. Once solid foods are introduced, you can offer small amounts of water. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests introducing a sippy cup around six to nine months since most little ones are developmentally ready at that age. 

Avoiding Unhealthy Habits

Sugar and Salt: Introducing babies to overly sugary or salty foods can lead to a preference for these tastes, affecting their health later in life. It’s best to avoid adding any salt or sugar to your baby’s food.

Honey: Babies under one year should not be given honey due to the risk of botulism, a rare but severe form of food poisoning.

Whole Nuts and Similar Foods: These pose a choking hazard and should be avoided.

Monitoring Growth and Health

Regular check-ups with a paediatrician are vital to ensure your baby is thriving. Growth is typically monitored using growth charts, which consider various factors, including weight, length, and head circumference.

Other ways to encourage early eating habits include:

Creating a Positive Mealtime Environment

  • A relaxed meal atmosphere can encourage babies to try new foods and enjoy eating. Keep mealtimes focused on feeding, without distractions like television. 
  • When introducing solid foods, use baby spoons or utensils. This helps your baby’s motor skills and gives them time to feel full during meals. 
  • Avoid putting cereal or food in your baby’s bottle, as this can lead to overeating and hinder their ability to recognise when they’re full. 
  • Offer small portions and encourage your baby to eat slowly, starting with half a spoonful or less.
  • Be patient with your baby when introducing them to new foods. Research suggests it might take 10 to 15 attempts before a baby accepts a new food. Continue to offer a variety of nutritious foods while also feeding your baby foods they enjoy.

Conclusion

Nutrition in the first year of life lays the groundwork for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. Parents can significantly influence their child’s nutritional health and overall development by starting solid foods at the right time, ensuring a balanced diet, and creating a positive eating environment. 

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