Nourishment from milk
In the first few days after her baby's birth, the mother produces breast milk known as colostrum. This milk is rich in zinc and other nutrients needed to enhance the baby's immune system, which is coming into contact with infection for the first time. After a few days, the fat and vitamin E in the milk are increased to feed the fatty tissues of the brain and strengthen the baby's immune system. Later, the milk will contain more of the protein and carbohydrate needed for growth and energy. The content of breast milk can change during a single feed to ensure that the nutrients most needed are provided in the early stages before the baby tires. A well-nourished mother can usually provide all the nutrients needed by her baby during the first six months of life.
Fortunately, we are now able to analyze breast milk, and this knowledge has been used to improve the quality of infant milk formulas needed by the five per cent of babies whose mothers are unable to breast feed them.
When to wean
This should not be given to children under five years old as it does not provide enough calories and lacks the fat-soluble vitamins. However, semi-skimmed milk can be given to children of two years old and above, provided they are growing well.
Introducing solid food
The first solid food for a baby usually consists of cooked and pureed fruit and vegetables, or specially prepared baby cereals. It is best to avoid food with added salt or sugar. When you are preparing a healthy meal for yourself, you can save time by sieving a small portion for the baby, such as avocado flesh. A baby's appetite will grow as he or she grows, until about one year when growth slows down and the appetite usually decreases. At about this time babies and toddlers often develop likes and dislikes. It is best to avoid battles about food: if you continue to offer nutritious food and avoid giving sweets, you can trust your toddler to eat what he or she needs.
What about food supplements?
Giving supplements to healthy young babies and infants is controversial. Many parents and paediatricians think that breast milk from a well-nourished mother together with well chosen nutritious solid food is sufficient. Others feel happier with a supplement that provides the recommended levels of minerals and vitamins. When a supplement is given, it is usual to use a liquid preparation for the first year or so, and then a preparation that can be chewed. It is important to follow the instructions on the bottle: if in doubt, seek professional advice. To avoid dietary imbalance, mineral and vitamin supplements should not be taken in large doses, except with professional guidance.
Can too much be toxic?
Vitamins A and D can both be toxic, so follow the dosage advice. Avoid high doses of cod liver oil.