By Emily Carver, Recent ASU Nutrition Student
This is part two of a five-part series on nutrition within the life cycle. Read part one here.
Infancy is often thought of as the age immediately following birth. As long as the baby’s age can still be given in weeks, they’re still an infant, right? The truth is infants are considered infants until their first birthday. Even if they’ve said their first word, are eating solids, and have already taken their first step, they are still considered to be in the infant stage of life until they hit one year.
This is important to know because nutritionally speaking, infants’ needs are different from those of toddlers and preschoolers. An infant’s birth weight triples in the first twelve months of life, and yet their energy needs – calories per day – are less than that of a toddler.
Think on that for one moment. A baby’s weight triples in just one year. That’s how much they grow in such a short amount of time. Nutrition in their first year of life is crucial to help pave the way for their formidable years.
Typically, within the first six months, a baby is reliant on the mother, either through breastmilk or formula. Once a baby is around six months old, parents can begin introducing solids into the baby’s diet. When this takes place, parents, especially first-time parents, might feel uncertain about knowing how much the baby should consume each day.
Per the Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board, the energy needs of an infant are higher per pound of body weight than any time of life. For 6-12-month-olds, the average energy needs are 98 cal/per kilogram of weight (1). So, for example, a seven-month-old baby weighing 18lbs (8.16kg) should expect to get around 800 calories a day.
This is said not to begin the unnecessary task of calorie counting for your infant, but instead to provide a general idea of how much they should consume each day. By making sure babies receive enough fats and proteins in their daily diet, it’ll help their development milestones.
The recommended protein intake for 6-12-month-olds is 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight, which would equate to 13 grams of protein for an 18lb seven-month-old baby. The amount of protein needed for each individual baby is based on their body composition and should be given based on the baby’s need. Protein is more necessary for the maintenance of muscles and less for the baby’s energy needs, and if a baby has more active muscles, then more protein may be necessary.
Good sources of protein are:
Sweet potatoes – mashed
Plain, boiled chicken
Fats, however, do not have a daily recommended amount and this is because fats are in high demand and very important to a baby’s development and energy. Infants use fats to supply energy to the liver, brain, and muscles, including the heart (2). Because infants use fats for generating energy, they typically cannot tolerate fasting for too long, which could be why they wake up in the middle of the night needing to be fed.
With this in mind, there are many great sources of healthy fats a baby can get beyond the mother’s milk or formula.
Foods high in healthy fats and essential fatty acids are:
Baked fish – ie. salmon
One thing all parents should remember when introducing any of these solids and new foods to their infant is to focus on one new food for 2-3 days before introducing the next new food. This helps you, the parent, keep track of any potential food allergies or intolerances the baby may have. This may take extra time to expand their food palette but it’ll be the best option for you and baby in the long-run.
Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2002.
Brown, J.E., Isaaacs, J.S., Krinke, B.U., Lechtenberg, E., Sharbaugh, C., et al. (2014). Nutrition Through the Lifecycles. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning