It’s a common and important question for any parent or parent-to-be, and it’s never too early to start making decisions about baby nutrition. You can turn to this guide to help prep your infant feeding plan and find out valuable facts about baby nutrition. Constantly craving information? Add to the info below with guidance on first-year feeding from the Canadian Paediatric Society.
Breast milk is best
It’s the perfect food for a newborn baby in that it’s nutrient-rich,¤ it can change feeding by feeding to meet the nutritional needs of your baby as they grow, and it’s naturally produced to give your baby the best start in life.
Breastfeeding is great for you as well. It can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight faster and help create an intimate bond between you and your baby.
Health Canada recommends that for the nutrition, immunologic protection, growth, and development of infants and toddlers, you breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, and you sustain it for up to two years or longer with appropriate complementary feeding.1,2
Learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding now.
Your infant feeding plan
How you feed your baby is a very personal decision. Here’s what you should consider while you personalize a baby nutrition plan:
- Base it on the right information, advice and support from your healthcare professional and your family.
- Know that breast milk is the ideal food for baby nutrition during the first six months of life.
- Look over the variety of infant formulas available, should you choose to introduce one.
As you get ready to give your baby all the nourishment they’ll need by developing an infant feeding plan, consider the following for yourself:
As you get ready to give your baby all the nourishment she’ll need by developing an infant feeding plan—consider this:
1. Healthy Mom, healthy Baby
- Eat healthy (and enough. Newborns feed every 2-3 hours, you gotta eat, too).
- Get lots of rest.
- Call on family and friends for help around the house (or just let the chores wait).
- Keep "Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide" on your fridge.
2. Learn about breastfeeding
Ready, set, breastfeed! Make it a fulfilling experience for both of you by arming yourself with helpful hints, as well as tips on how to cope with challenges.
3. Get right to it!
- Breastfeed ASAP after birth (within 30 to 60 minutes is recommended if you are healthy enough to do so).
- Hold your baby to skin-to-skin often to promote successful breastfeeding initiation.
- Confirm your hospital supports 24-hour rooming-in (so you never keep your hungry baby waiting).,
4. Know your supplementing options for optimum baby nutrition
- Your choices include breastfeeding (ideally), supplementing breast milk with infant formula or feeding with infant formula only.
- Health Canada recommends cow milk-based commercial infant formula as the only safe and nutritious alternative to breast milk.1,2
- Canadian healthcare experts recommend cow's-milk based infant formula from birth until 9 to 12 months of age.1,2
- Iron-fortified infant formula offers a complete source of nutrition for your baby during the first year (The Canadian government actually regulates the composition of infant formula).
- Infant formulas contain the recommended amounts of fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals needed for baby's growth and development.
- You have several choices of infant formulas – always speak to your doctor before making changes to what you feed your baby.
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When can my baby have cow's milk?
Whole (3.25 percent) cow's milk isn't recommended as a part of a baby nutrition plan until the 9- to 12-month mark for these reasons:
Iron should be part of a baby nutrition plan
As you strengthen your iron knowledge with the info below, know that your baby’s initial iron reserves may start to run low at about the 6-month mark1.
- It’s a vital nutrient that contributes to the normal growth and development of your baby.
- It’s essential in building red blood cells that transport oxygen throughout her little body.
How does a baby get iron?
- Healthy full- term infants are born with iron stores, which meet their needs until about six months of age.
- Your own iron-rich diet will help ensure that these stores stay topped up.
- Breast milk will provide your baby with adequate iron for those first 6 months1.
- Should you choose to supplement or exclusively formula feed, choose an iron-fortified formula.
- Introduce iron-rich solid foods after the 6-month mark1.
Wait, solid foods?
- Yep, your baby will be ready to start eating solid foods by around six months.
- The introduction of foods into a baby nutrition plan should be a steady progression of single ingredients and portion sizes between six and 12 months of age.
- Health Canada recommends baby’s first foods be iron-rich.1
- Healthy iron-rich options are meat, meat alternatives and iron-fortified baby cereal.
- Babies should be offered iron-rich foods two or more times a day.1,2
- Still not sure how to meet your baby’s iron needs once she’s accustomed to solid food? Just follow the baby nutrition recommendations in the chart below.3
- Breastfeeding is ideal ¾ and nature’s way of delivering iron to your baby for the first six months
- Always choose an iron-fortified infant formula if you decide to supplement or exclusively formula-feed
- Introduce iron-rich foods at around six months of age whether you're breastfeeding or formula feeding (just talk to your baby's doctor, first)
- Avoid whole cow's milk until at least nine to 12 months of age as it is a poor source of iron
- Be aware of the myths and know there is no scientific data that shows a correlation between iron-fortified formulas and gastrointestinal problems such as colic, constipation and fussiness
- Store all vitamin supplements that contain iron, including your prenatal and postpartum vitamins out of children's reach ¾ large amounts can be harmful to children
- If you suspect excessive iron intake, call your doctor or visit your local emergency room immediately.
Talk to your doctor about your baby’s iron needs and iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can cause your baby to be less active than usual, and perhaps even develop more slowly.
DHA and ARA
You’re probably aware of these two fatty acids that offer health benefits: DHA (you know it as docosahexaenoic acid, right?), an omega-3 fat, and ARA (arachidonic acid, of course), an omega-6 fat.
What makes them so important to baby nutrition?
Experts agree that DHA and ARA are essential for healthy brain and eye development4,5 (they actually accumulate in the brain and eye tissue of your baby before birth).
The earlier you can start getting DHA, a major brain-nourishing nutrient, the better—up to 90% of your baby’s brain growth will be complete by age three6.
How do I get them?
Your body will produce DHA and ARA from two essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic (ALA) and linoleic acid.
It all starts though, with your healthy diet—so eat foods rich in DHA5, like:
- Fatty fish: Atlantic salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and cod are your best DHA bets (in that order).
- Omega-3 eggs fortified with DHA: A great substitute if you’re not a fish fan.
- Flaxseed and walnuts: Decent sources, yes, but you’ll only get a small amount of DHA once your body processes these.
How does my baby get them?
These nutrients are passed through your breast milk.
Your baby’s body produces them the same way yours does, from alpha-linoleic and linoleic acid that are added to all infant formulas. These essential fatty acids are also found in a variety of solid foods5. Plus, most infant formulas in Canada also contain DHA and ARA to support baby’s normal physical brain and eye development. Your healthcare professional can answer any more of your questions about DHA and ARA.
The Pros of Probiotics: Developing A Baby Nutrition Plan for Bolstering A Baby Immune System
Ah, yes, another miracle of nature—your baby’s developing immune system, it works hard as a:
- Shield from sickness and infection.
- Main support in her growth and overall health.
- Key in maintaining natural protective barriers.
The skin is obviously most important for protection, but another important barrier is the digestive tract, which is home to:
- 80% of the body's immune cells.7
- The gut flora, a delicately balanced community of around 500 different kinds of bacteria.
In a healthy digestive system, part of the task of keeping baby’s immune system and body safe from illness relies on good bacteria (or bacterial cultures)—they can also help to balance potentially harmful bacteria. One way to help support this protective barrier is to increase the levels of good bacteria in your baby’s digestive tract.
Recent research has shown that breast milk naturally contains probiotics including Bifidobacteria8,9 that:
- Are good bacteria
- Make up to 90% of the naturally occurring bacteria found in the gut flora of healthy, breastfed babies.10
- Aid in building a healthy digestive tract flora.
- Help with the healthy development of a strong immune system.11,12
These facts alone make it easy to see why breast milk is an ideal source of probiotics for your baby.
What are probiotics?
The meaning of “probiotic” is literally “for life”.
Probiotics are live, safe microorganisms, found in food and you’ll also hear them called “natural cultures” or “good bacteria”.
They offer specific health benefits, like aiding in digestion and supporting the immune system, when taken in adequate amounts.13
The probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis or B. lactis is a common type of Bifidobacteria and is recognized by Health Canada as a probiotic that contributes to baby’s healthy digestive tract flora.14 B. lactis has also been extensively studied for its baby nutrition benefits in infants.
Research suggests that, when ingested, probiotics only temporarily reside in the digestive system11,13,14 and continued, daily consumption of B. lactis is necessary for health benefits.14,15
B. lactis has been shown to help increase levels of antibodies, the immune protectors of your body, and an important part of a healthy baby's immune system and natural defences.15,16,17
¤ All breastfed, full term infants in Canada should receive a daily vitamin D supplement of 10 mg (400 IU).
Joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months. 2012. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guide/resources/infant-feeding/nutrition-healthy-term-infants-recommendations-birth-six-months.html
Joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada. Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Six to 24 Months. 2014. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guide/resources/infant-feeding/nutrition-healthy-term-infants-recommendations-birth-six-months/6-24-months.html
Adapted from the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada. Manual of Clinical Dietetics, Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data, Chicago.
FAO/WHO Joint Expert Consultation. Report of a joint expert consultation: FAO Food and Nutrition paper No. 57, Rome, 1994. p.49-55.
Dietitians of Canada. Food Sources of Omega-3 Fats. https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals. Posted Oct 28, 2016. Accessed June 9, 2017.
Physical Appearance and Growth: Your 1 Year Old. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/Pages/Physical-Appearance-and-Growth-Your-1-Year-Old.aspx. Accessed June 29, 2017.
Brandtzaeg P et al. Gastroenterol 1989; 97:1562-84.
Gueimonde M et al. Neonatology 2007;92:64-6.
Martin R et al. Appl Environ Microbiol 2009; 75(4): 965-9.
Yoshioka H et al. Pediatrics 1983;72:317-21.
Saavedra, JM. Nutr Clin Pract 2007;22(3): 351-65.
Marchand et al. Using probiotics in the paediatric population. Paediatric Child Health 2012; 17(10):575 (Reaffirmed Feb 28 2015).
Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional Properties of Probiotics in Food including Powder Milk with Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, October 2001.
Health Canada. Accepted Claims about the Nature of Probiotic Micro-organisms in Food. April, 2009. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-labelling/health-claims/accepted-claims-about-nature-probiotic-microorganisms-food.html.
Fukushima Y et al. Int J Food Microbiol 1998; 42:39-44.
Holscher HD et al. J Parenter Enteral Nutr 2012;36:106S-117S.
Mohan R et al. Pediatr Res 2008;64(4):418-422.
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