Important Nutrients Your Baby Needs Explained by a Nutritionist
Your baby relies on a range of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates to grow and develop. Until now, milk (be it breast or formula) has given your baby everything it needs. I’ve highlighted a few key nutrients below that need to be focused on, just a little more than the others. These nutrients are either often low in the breastfeeding mother, are dependent on the time of year and geographical location or can be lacking in certain restricted diets. I am by no means saying you need to supplement your baby with these nutrients but to include foods rich in the vitamins and minerals.
Up until now, your baby has relied on iron stored in its liver obtained from you while in utero. Because breast milk is a poor source of iron and stores are beginning to deplete it is most important to start with iron rich foods first. Typically an iron-fortified rice cereal is recommended as one of the first foods for babies.
Vitamin D is required for the proper function of many body systems including musculoskeletal, immune and endocrine systems. Vitamin D deficiency in children may lead to rickets and precipitate fractures, osteomalacia, and osteopenia in adulthood. Breastmilk is a relatively poor source of vitamin D. If the mother had adequate vitamin D during pregnancy, an infant will have enough stored for the first 8-12 weeks of life. Vitamin D can then be obtained by exposing the babies' bare skin to sunlight via sensible sun exposure. It is recommended that breastfed babies have a brief period of full body sun exposure before 10.00 and after 16.00 to obtain their daily requirement.
Season dependent, the amount of time required in the sun maybe longer or shorter. For example, in the middle of summer, only 5 minutes may be required around 9am compared to winter 10-15 minutes at 9am. Clothed, veiled or darker skinned babies and mothers may require longer exposure to ensure adequate levels. Vitamin D deficiency is less of an issue in formula fed babies as most formulas are fortified with the recommended daily amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin D can be obtained from dietary sources as well as via sun exposure once the infant has a good consistent solid intake. Naturally rich sources of vitamin D3 include grass fed butter, organic chicken livers, egg yolks, oily fish such as salmon, mackerel herring and cod liver oil. These fish have higher amounts of vitamin D3 if they are wild caught versus farmed. Wild salmon has 500-1000IU of vitamin D3 per 100g compared to only 100-250IU in farmed salmon per 100g. Dairy products contain some vitamin D3, but amounts vary depending on the cows’ UVB sun exposure and health. If adequate intakes cannot be met through dietary intake or UVB exposure, supplementation may be required. This may be the case in colder climates and during long winters. It is best to seek the advice of a doctor or nutritionist to decide if supplementation if the best method of intake for your infant.
Exclusively breastfed babies, receive roughly 32g of calcium per 100ml, but this will depend on the mother’s dietary and supplemental intake. Infant formulas contain similar amounts of calcium to breast milk as they are formulated this way, though absorption may vary. If the mother's diet is high in calcium rich foods and she is taking a pregnancy or breastfeeding multivitamin, you need not worry; your baby is likely getting all they need. If the mother's diet is lacking in calcium, the mother can draw on calcium stored in her bones, but she must ensure this calcium is replaced to prevent a decline in her bone density. The RDI for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers is 1000mg daily. Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) seems to be becoming more prevalent in babies. The general recommendation for CMPA is for the breastfeeding mother to eliminate all dairy, including sheep’s and goat’s milk, and soy from her diet while breastfeeding the sensitive infant. In this instance, non-dairy & non-soy calcium rich foods need to be included in the mother’s diet and baby’s diet from 4-6 months of age to ensure adequate intakes. The breastfeeding mother should also take a calcium supplement. I strongly encourage mothers of these babies with CMPA to give their best efforts to continue breastfeeding. The cow's milk-free formulas aren't without cons, and breast milk helps the baby establish their gut flora and prevents against allergies and atopic illness such as asthma and eczema. Formula-fed babies with CMPA will be receiving enough calcium from their prescription formula. Extra care must be taken though when weaning to nourish them with as many nutrient dense foods and avoid excessive sugars.
Iodine is an essential mineral for the formation of thyroid hormones that control metabolism, growth and development. Iodine is essential for the mother and the developing foetus and of course, the baby. Iodine is low in Australian soils. If iodine intake is insufficient during pregnancy, it can lead to stunted grown and intellectual impairment of the infant (WHO, 2007). The mother can also develop postpartum thyroiditis, which causes fatigue, low mood and hair loss. It is important to also maintain sufficient intake of iodine while breastfeeding. If you believe you are at risk of iodine deficiency, it’s best to consult a nutritionist or dietitian before starting supplementation, as an excess of iodine can also be harmful. Iodine rich foods include seaweed, fish and prawns. Iodine is also present in fruits and vegetables grown in iodine rich soil and animal raised on iodine rich pastures. As fish consumption and cooked prawns are usually reduced or avoided in pregnancy because of the risk of listeria, it’s best to take a multi -vitamin containing iodine during pregnancy and breastfeeding, to ensure you are able to provide yourself and baby with adequate levels. Most commercial formulas are fortified with iodine so it is less of an issue with formula fed babies.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids (EFA's), EPA and DHA (A.K.A) omega 3's are essential for neurodevelopment. Infants born to mothers who supplemented with EFAs during pregnancy have higher mental processing scores, psychomotor development and eye-hand coordination by the age of 4 years. Breast milk is a rich source of EPA and DHA and only some formulas are fortified with these essential fatty acids. Once solid foods are introduced to your baby, egg yolks, avocado, olive oil, low mercury fish and grass fed meats can serve as a dietary source of EFA's.
Pre and Probiotics
A balanced intestinal microflora is essential for the absorption of nutrients, breakdown and transit of foods, production of enzymes and vitamin K. Prebiotic containing foods help feed intestinal microorganisms including bacteria and probiotics (the microorganisms) including bacteria, yeast and fungi, which are essential for health. Prebiotics are found in foods whose fibre is resistant to breakdown (insoluble) in the intestines. Prebiotics include insulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans and FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Prebiotics act as an adhesive on the gastrointestinal wall to help bacteria stick and additionally as fuel for their growth and survival. See the table below for examples of these foods.
Prebiotic Rich Foods
Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage
Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, soybeans
Custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, dried fruit (eg. dates, figs)
Barley, rye bread, rye crackers, pasta, couscous, wheat bran, wheat bread, oats
|Nuts and Seeds||
Cashews, pistachio nuts
Human breast milk