Top Nutrition Requirements in Babies

Nutrition in the First Year

For more information on nutrition in the first year of life, check out Episode 25 of the Growing Our Family Parenting Podcast where we talk with Jeannie Marrugo from Cafe Baby. 

The following contains some of the top nutrient requirements your baby should receive in the first year of their life, as well as food recommendations on where to find these vitamins and nutrients. As always, talk with your pediatrician if you are concerned about nutrient deficiencies or allergies. 

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A guide to your baby’s nutrition in the first year

Calcium

Calcium is great for babies and children in general as it helps build strong bones and teeth. It also helps with blood clotting and helps maintain healthy nerves and muscles. As an infant, your child can get all the calcium they need through breastmilk or formula. As they get older, you can start adding additional calcium into their diet through food like yogurt, cheese, certain leafy greens, and tofu. Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and calcium from breast milk is better absorbed than calcium from other sources like cow’s milk or soy based formula. However, formula contains a higher level of calcium to help offset that absorption. 

Iron

Iron is a very important nutrient because it not only helps build blood cells and prevents anemia, it also helps the brain develop. Most full-term infants are born with enough iron stores to last them about 4-6 months after birth. Breastmilk typically has less iron in it than formula, and they should be supplemented once you start solids. Good sources of iron include breast milk, formula, meat, liver, legumes, whole-grains, and iron fortified cereals. 

Fat

Healthy fat is a great way for kids to boost energy, helps keep them warm, and allows for the absorption of certain vitamins like A, D, E, and K. It also promotes healthy skin and hair, eye development, aids in fighting infection, and promotes normal brain development. You can introduce healthy fat foods such as breast milk and formula in the first months, followed by meats, cheese, egg yolks, and any other fats or oils that you add to their food. 

Folate

Folate is not only an important item to get during pregnancy, but babies need this nutrient as well. It helps with the division and healthy growth of blood cells. Folate and folic acid are sometimes interchanged, but there is a difference between the two. Folate occurs naturally in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form of the vitamin. Babies receive folate through breast milk, formula, leafy greens, oranges, cantaloupe, whole grains, fortified cereals, legumes, lean beef, and egg yolks. 

Protein 

Protein helps build, maintain and repair certain tissues like skin, eyes, muscles, heart, lungs, brain, and other vital organs, along with help regulate body processes. It also serves as a source of energy if they do not get enough calories from fat or carbs. Protein in animal products have enough amino acids to meet daily protein requirements. If you want to introduce protein from plant products, you can combine different types of protein to get all of the essential amino acids. 

Carbohydrates

Carbs are a great source of energy and promote and fuel growth. They are broken down into three major categories: simple sugars like glucose, double sugars like lactose, and complex carbs. The major carbohydrate consumed by infants is lactose which can be found in breast milk and formula. Older babies can find carbohydrates in cereal, fruits, and vegetables. 

Zinc

Zinc can actually help your child’s cells grow and repair themselves. They assist in blood formation, general growth of tissues, taste bud forming, and aid in a healthy immune system. Zinc can be found in breast milk, formula, meat, poultry, liver, egg yolks, cheese, yogurt, legumes, and whole grains. Whole grains will contain a lesser source of zinc than some of the other options. Breast milk is a great way to obtain zinc in babies under 6 months old, but after that they will need supplementation. 

Vitamins

  • Vitamin A: Keeps skin, vision, hair, and your immune system growing and healthy. You can find it in breast milk and formula, egg yolks, dark leafy greens, and yellow fruits like sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, and peaches. 
  • Vitamin B1, B2 and B3: Helps your body turn food into energy. You can find it in breast milk and formula, organ meat, dairy, egg yolks, whole grains, and green vegetables. 
  • Vitamin B6: Helps the body build tissues using protein and increases your metabolism. You can find it in most of the same foods as B1, 2, and 3, with the addition of legumes and potatoes. 
  • Vitamin B12. Keeps nerve and blood cells healthy, and makes DNA — the genetic material in every cell.
  • Vitamin C. Protects against disease and infections, builds strong bones, and aids in tissue repair. 
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D is created in your skin when you are out in the sun. It helps the body absorb calcium and helps keep your teeth and bones healthy. Check with your pediatrician as some breastfed babies may need a supplement.
  • Vitamin E. Protects cells from damage, and helps with vitamin A stores.
  • Vitamin K. Necessary for proper blood clotting. It can be found in dark leafy greens, pork, and liver. Breast milk can be low in vitamin K which is why most infants are given a shot at birth. 

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References:

“Nutritional Needs of Infants”: https://wicworks.fns.usda.gov/wicworks/Topics/FG/Chapter1_NutritionalNeeds.pdf