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My Baby Nutrition Wish List

baby nutrition
by Nadia Phaneuf/Flickr

I have been thinking a lot lately about baby nutrition: the big nutrition picture for babies.

Having been around the block as a pediatric dietitian—from clinical practice in some of the world’s most famous hospitals and operating my own pediatric-specific private practice– to mothering and feeding four of my own children (plus the mothering of friends and relatives that go along with the territory), I have some items on my baby nutrition wish list I’d like to share.

#1 Pregnant Moms Pay More Attention to Eating

I wish that pregnant moms would pay a little more attention to what they eat. If you’ve ever thought that you could eat better, or healthier, pregnancy this is the time to do it.

The food you eat during pregnancy not only builds the foundation of your baby’s brain and body, it sets his future health in motion. Your body needs more nutrition to grow another human! Nutrients like iron, choline and DHA, to name a few, become high priority when you’re expecting.

#2 Offer Iron-Rich Foods Early

I wish that moms understood the importance of iron for their baby’s brain development.

In the first two years of life, iron is a critical nutrient. Iron deficiency can cause lasting delays in cognitive and behavioral development.

This may translate to learning disabilities, speech delays, social interaction delays, and motor delays.

While baby development happens at an individual pace, all children need good nutrition to make it happen.

#3 Use Tried & True Feeding Approaches

To this end, I wish that parents understood that trendy approaches to feeding young children can have its drawbacks, leading them to make some mistakes with feeding if not careful.

For example, feeding your baby mostly fruits and vegetables can cause poor weight gain.

If your ill-informed about nutrients in food and using baby-led weaning, your baby can miss out on iron, DHA and other important nutrients.

Delaying solids foods in favor of breastfeeding exclusively can also short-circuit important nutrients.

#4 Parents Become Fearless Feeders

I wish that babies were adventurous with food, trying lots of different flavors, textures and types, so they build a wide palate for a variety of food.

Too often, parents get off track by their own food fears, picky eating, and hang-ups. This often trickles down to baby’s food experience and what he eats.

#5 Avoid the Obvious Nutrition Mistakes

I wish that babies wouldn’t drink soda, eat too many sweets, or sip caffeine-containing beverages. These early introductory tastes reinforce baby’s natural preference for sweets and may make him develop an affinity for them later.

starting solids guide

#6 No Experimental Diets

I wish parents wouldn’t try out unnecessary, experimental diets on babies, such as gluten-free eating, or the paleo diet, when it isn’t medically indicated.

We have no idea the repercussions of experimental diets on young children.

#7 Offer Strategic Snacks

I wish that snacks were offered with a strategy, using them to make up missing foods or nutrients as the day proceeds.

Away with the nutrient-poor snacks!

#8 Breastfeeding and Beyond

I wish babies were breast fed for as long as possible, and moms felt the support they needed to keep going, making the decision to stop when it’s right for the family, not by any pressure stemming from other sources like returning to work.
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#9 Focused, Not Distracted, Feeding

I wish moms would nix the multi-tasking when feeding their baby and instead, look their baby in the eye, talk with him, and be use feeding as a time for bonding.

#10 Learning to Eat is a Process

I wish all parents understood that babies are learning to eat, from tasting new flavors to learning how to self-feed, and that the purpose of early feeding is to teach baby what, how and why to eat.

Those are my main wishes, in a nutshell. What’s on your baby nutrition wish list?

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  1. Great post!

    I wish I had known when I was pregnant that delaying cord clamping can give babies another 2+ months worth of iron stores, so I wouldn’t have had to worry so much about iron starting right at 6 months! It seems that even sources advocating delayed cord clamping don’t make that huge benefit clear.

    I also wish that more babies (& toddlers!) got included in family meals, eating at the same time as the rest of the family and eating the same foods as soon as they’re developmentally ready. I know many, many people that are unwilling to change their breakfast/dinner schedule to accommodate their children’s eating schedule, and their little ones mostly eat separate meals with different foods.

  2. Great suggestions. I have a few more that are on the top of my list:

    1. Good nutrition needs to be on the agenda even while contemplating pregnancy (although the ideal is good nutrition no matter what!) The first six weeks pregnancy (before most women know they are pregnant) establishes a legacy of strong metabolic health for the baby–or not.

    2. We need to rethink first foods. The baby food industry has bamboozled too many to believe refined cereals are best introductory foods. Not true. A wide range of whole foods, textures and tastes are offered to babies all over the world.

    3. Think balance. Easy access and acceptance means too many babies are fed a predominantly refined carbohydrate diet–even if it is organic or made from whole grain. Too often parents don’t know how to help their babies eat adequate protein and enough fat along with a rich variety of whole plant foods.

    4. Food nourishes, nurtures, and new foods are intense sensory experiences for baby. Feeding time serves as a powerful opportunity to observe your child’s development, and unique response to the full range of sensory input.

    In Smart Bites for Baby by Mika Shino, I encourage parents and caregivers to shift focus away from “feed the baby” to “learn about your baby”. Sensory issues tend to be common with picky eaters, and sometimes working with an occupational therapist or dietitian familiar with sensory integration challenges is helpful. The more parents and caregivers understand what is behind feeding behavior, the better opportunity to address the feeding challenges.