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Breast milk or formula fulfills all your baby's nutritional requirements until they are 6 months old. It is common for growth spurts to occur at 3 and 6 weeks as well as 3 and 6 months, during which it is normal for your baby to want to feed more often from the breast or bottle. After 6 months of age, you will need to introduce additional foods to meet your baby’s growing nutritional needs. It is important for breast milk or formula to be the largest portion of a baby’s diet up to 1 year of age.
Babies have small stomachs and eat little bits at a time. They are growing and developing faster in their first year than at any other time in their lives. It is very important to provide only nutritious, healthy foods for your child in this first year and to avoid unhealthy foods.
Timing is everything: starting solids too early may mean that your baby won't get the nutrients that they need from breast milk or formula. Your baby is also at risk of choking if they are not ready to orally feed from a spoon. A baby’s nutritional needs begin to change at 6 months of age so starting solids too late may also mean that your baby does not get all the nutrients that they require. It may also lead to slow acceptance of solids and or difficulty chewing and swallowing.
Some signs that your baby is ready for solid foods are:
Begin by introducing an iron fortified infant cereal. Single grain cereals should be tried first, followed by mixed cereals. Always use a spoon to feed your baby cereal and never add it to a bottle as it could cause your baby to choke. You can mix cereal with breast milk, formula or water. As your baby becomes a more confident eater, you can make the cereal thicker by adding less liquid. Healthy babies have enough iron stores to last for the first 6 months; iron intake is important for babies at this age as it helps develop mental and motor function, as well as blood production so always choose iron fortified cereal or formula. Only infants that are anemic or premature require oral iron supplementation in the first year.
Once you have successfully introduced cereal you can start offering your baby pureed meats (eg. beef, poultry, fish) and alternatives (eg. tofu, well-cooked legumes, cooked egg yolk). Limit processed meats and fish as they are high in salt, nitrates and mercury.
After meats and alternatives you can move on to pureed fruits and vegtables which will give your baby added vitamins, minerals and fiber. It's recommended that you start with vegetables prior to starting fruit, so they don't develop a preference for fruit which tends to be sweeter. Remember, your baby gets enough to drink from breast milk or formula and does not need fruit juice. If you want to give your baby juice, make sure to offer no more than 1/2 cup per day, you may want to dilute it at first. Use only 100% fruit juice as it contains the least amount of sugar.
Vitamin D helps absorb calcium, making strong bones and teeth. A lack of Vitamin D can lead to a diesease called Rickets, which results in the malformation of bones. The Canadian Pediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada and Health Canada all recommend that breastfed infants get 400 I.U. of Vitamin D daily. For babies living in northern Canada, above 60 degrees latitude, 800 I.U. of Vitamin D is recommended daily. Keep supplementing your breastfed baby until their diet can provide them with more adequate sources (milk and milk products such as yogurt). Natural sunlight is also a good source of Vitamin D.