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Essential dietary requirements for babies: What do parents need to know?

As a parent you want the best for your child, especially in regards to their health and development. Nutrition plays such an important role yet it can be especially difficult to navigate the overload of nutrition advice out there.  You may hear about iron, calcium, omega 3 fats, yet what does this all mean in terms of food intake? Here are just a few important dietary considerations to think about when feeding your little one.

Calories for growth and development

For the first 4-6 months you can rest assured that breast milk and or formula will be providing your little one with all the nutrients they need. Breast milk and/or formula will provide the perfect combination of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates your baby needs to develop and grow. The most important dietary consideration at this stage is that your baby gets enough protein and calories to grow bigger. As your baby reaches around 4 to 6 months these nutritional needs will change and solids will need to be introduced to fill in the nutritional gap that breast milk and formula cannot provide.

So what nutrients should you be focusing on?

Iron

Iron helps to transport oxygen around your baby's body as well as being a critical nutrient for your baby's developing brain.  Poor iron intake in babies can lead to iron deficiency anemia which may present as a pale, irritable and fatigued child. Luckily your baby is born with all the iron stores it needs for the first 6 months of life approximately. At around at 6 months their stores become depleted and will need to be topped up through dietary iron sources. Your child needs around 11mg iron per day which can be provided by simply offering iron rich dietary sources such as red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, iron fortified rice cereal and leafy greens to name a few.

Zinc

Zinc is an important 'immune boosting' nutrient which is vital to your baby's health. It also plays a big role in cell growth and repair which is important when your little one is going through so much growth. The best sources of zinc include animal meals, nuts, eggs and a variety of vegetables.

Calcium

Calcium intake is vital for bone development, especially in the early childhood years. A baby up to 12 months will usually meet their calcium requirements via breast milk and/or formula alone. Once your baby is 12 months and over they require 500mg calcium per day, which is the equivalent of 400ml milk or calcium fortified milk drink per day. Other good sources of calcium may be from almonds, green leafy vegetables and calcium fortified dairy alternatives.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids including omega 3 fats are important for brain and eye development, cognitive functioning and immune function, so basically a powerhouse to help your baby's little brain grow! Your baby requires around 0.5g omega 3 fats daily. Excellent sources come from oily fish (such as salmon), animal meats as well as vegetarian sources including chia seeds, nuts, eggs and avocado to name a few.

These are just some of the important nutrients your baby needs in the first year of life and beyond. The best way to ensure your little one gets all the nutrition he or she needs is to offer a balanced diet with a variety of foods from each of the food groups. This includes fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, legumes, dairy or alternatives and wholegrain breads and cereals. If you can offer a wide variety of simple, nutritious foods from a young age your baby will get the best start he or she needs in life!

  • Bub's 1st YearFrom a NutritionisthealthNourishNutrition

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