Babies and nutrient needs

Babies develop quickly in their first year of life! One of the most impressive examples of this is how much their eating habits change from the day they’re born to their first birthday. Depending on how old they are, Baby may already be getting their nutrients from different kinds of food.

When babies are one to three months old, their only source of food should be either breast milk or formula. As babies get closer to three months, they start to eat more in one setting and are less frequently hungry.

At around six months, babies start showing signs of being ready to eat solid food. Parents sometimes start with an iron-fortified single-grain cereal mixed with breast milk or formula, and then vegetables, fruit, and maybe pureed meat, beans, or lentils.

By twelve months, the typical baby can drink cow’s milk from a cup and eat a variety of foods. Children can be picky at this age, so it’s important for parents to be flexible and feed them a variety of nutritious foods without forcing anything.

Do babies need supplements?

The human body is an amazing machine, and so when the body produces breast milk, it does so in a way that the milk provides just about everything a growing child would need, and the same is true for formula. The composition of breast milk is constantly changing to better adjust to a growing baby’s needs, which is why formula comes in several different stages as well. 

So while it’s true that infants and small children get most of their nutritional needs through either breast milk or formula, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that some infants and children receive certain supplements starting soon after they’re born, depending on how they are fed.

  • Vitamin D: Infants who are exclusively or partially breastfed should receive 400 International Units (IU) every day, until they’re at least a year old. Babies who are formula-fed get vitamin D in their formula, so they don’t need extra vitamin D supplementation.
  • Iron: Exclusively breastfed babies should receive 1 mg per kg of weight of a liquid iron supplement each day, up until they can start eating iron-rich solid foods at around six months. Babies who are partially breastfed should receive this amount of supplementation if over half of their daily feedings are from breast milk. Formula-fed babies don’t need supplementation as long as their formula is iron-fortified. Babies born preterm tend to need more iron and so are often given supplementation regardless of how they’re being fed.
  • For nursing mothers: If you’re breastfeeding, you may want to consider your own diet, too. Women who are breastfeeding and follow a vegetarian diet are sometimes encouraged to take a B-complex supplement, because they may not be getting B-complex vitamins from animal products. 

With all this talk about what babies do need in their first year of life, it’s important to remember the things that they shouldn’t eat at this time: juice, honey, or cow’s milk, especially. Before their first birthday, babies are too young for these foods to be safe for the to eat. For now, stick to the recommended foods for baby’s age. The two of you have plenty of time in the future to get adventurous!

  • “Feeding Your 1-3 month old.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, 2016. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Solid foods: How to get your baby started.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jun 7 2016. Web.
  • “Vitamin D & Iron Supplements for Babies: AAP Recommendations.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, May 27 2016. Web.
  • “Feeding and Nutrition: Your One-Year-Old.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, Nov 21 2015. Web.
  • Committee on Nutrition. “Calcium Requirements of Infants, Children, and Adolescents.” Pediatrics. 104(5). Web. Nov 1999. 
  • O Ballard and A L. Morrow. “Human Milk Composition: Nutrients and Bioactive Factors.” Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2013 Feb; 60(1): 49–74.
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