What nutrients do infants need?
A good way to think of this question is “which nutrients do we need to add to baby’s breast milk or formula diet first?” At six months or so, a baby’s growth needs begin to outstrip the nutrients they can get from breastmilk or formula. They need additional protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Breastfed babies can also develop a vitamin D deficiency if they don’t receive a supplement, and for all babies, vitamin C helps with iron absorption.
This chart shows the nutrients baby needs and infant-friendly foods that contain them:
Infant-Friendly Food Sources for Needed Nutrients
Nutrient Food Source
Protein Lean meats, cereal, beans, eggs
Iron Iron-fortified cereal, meats, green vegetables
Zinc Fortified cereal, meats
Vitamin A Yellow vegetables
Vitamin C Fruits, broccoli, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes
Vitamin D Sun exposure, fortified cereal, egg yolk, cod liver oil
DHA Eggs, fish (e.g., salmon)
Note: Iron, vitamins, and DHA are also available as infant drops.
For most infants, an excellent food to begin with is iron-fortified cereal. In addition to the protein, zinc and iron in fortified cereal, it gives infants a great opportunity to learn to use their tongues to move the cereal from the front to the back of their mouths, and then to swallowing.
Start by mixing one part cereal with three or four parts breastmilk or formula to create a very thin consistency. Then gradually (over a week or so), reduce the amount of fluid to two parts to thicken up the cereal a bit.
The usual cereal to start with is rice because relatively few babies develop an allergy to it. However, rice does sometimes cause constipation in some babies. For them, assuming they do not have celiac disease in their family, we sometimes start with barley or oats (see the post on introducing foods to potentially allergic babies). If your baby has a constipation problem, and we don’t want to try other cereals because of gluten, then we can start with protein rich vegetables, usually the yellow or orange ones first because abies routinely like them and they are well tolerated.
Caution—One new food at a time to monitor allergic reactions.
This is really important: Only introduce one new food at a time to your baby, then wait three to five days to see if the baby has a reaction to the new food before introducing a new one. For <potentially allergic infants> we wait five to seven days. For example, if you are introducing squash, start with a small amount on the first day, and build up to a full portion by the third day and continue with squash for two more days giving us five days in total (extend the cycle to seven days for potentially allergic infants). This gives us five (or seven) days to see if baby develops a rash or other reaction to the food. See my post <Monitoring Baby’s Reactions to New Foods> for more on this topic.
NEXT— What solid foods should we introduce to baby first? – Beyond Cereal