Infant Nutrition: The First 6 Months
Your baby is about to go through an amazing growth spurt. In their first year, babies triple their birth weight. To grow that much, they need a lot of nutrients -- more than at any other time in their life.
Experts say breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies during the first 6 months. But if you can't breast-feed, or your baby has special nutritional needs, formula is a good alternative.
Nutrition and Your Growing Baby
Some of the nutrients babies need to grow and stay healthy include:
Calcium. Helps build strong bones and teeth.
Fat. Creates energy, helps the brain develop, keeps skin and hair healthy, and protects against infections.
Folate. Helps cells divide.
Iron. Builds blood cells, and helps the brain develop.
Protein and carbohydrates. They provide energy and fuel growth.
Zinc. Helps the cells grow and repair themselves
Your baby also needs vitamins such as:
- Vitamin A. Keeps skin, hair, vision, and the immune system healthy.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Helps the body turn food into energy.
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin). Helps the body turn food into energy, and protects cells from damage.
- Vitamin B3 (niacin). Helps the body turn food into energy and use fats and protein.
- Vitamin B6. Keeps the brain and immune system healthy.
- Vitamin B12. Keeps nerve and blood cells healthy, and makes DNA -- the genetic material in every cell.
- Vitamin C. Protects against infections, builds bones and muscles, and helps wounds heal.
- Vitamin D. Helps the body absorb calcium from food, and keeps bones and teeth healthy.
- Vitamin E. Protects cells from damage, and strengthens the immune system.
- Vitamin K. Helps the blood to clot.
Nutrients in Formula
Most infant formulas today are made from cow's milk. They are fortified to make them as close to breast milk as possible, and to give babies all the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy.
Most cow's milk formulas contain:
- Carbohydrates, in the form of the milk sugar "lactose"
- Minerals, such as calcium and zinc
- Vitamins, including A, C, D, E, and the B vitamins
Some formulas add other nutrients to make them even more like breast milk, such as:
Essential fatty acids. ARA and DHA are fatty acids that are important for the baby's brain and vision.
They're naturally found in breast milk, and now some formulas add them. Yet there's not a lot of evidence that formulas supplemented with fatty acids offer kids any real advantages as they grow. They're also more expensive than regular formulas.
Nucleotides. These building blocks of RNA and DNA are also found in breast milk and added to some formulas.
They are thought to boost the baby's immune system and help the digestive organs develop.
Prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics are "good" bacteria that help protect against the "bad" types of bacteria that cause infection. Prebiotics promote the growth of these good bacteria in the gut.
Formula that's supplemented with probiotics may prevent babies from getting the skin condition eczema, but it doesn't seem to help with diarrhea or colic.