The building blocks for baby’s good health are created during the first 1,000 days – from conception until the age of 2. By supporting baby’s growth and development now you can ensure a bright future for your little one.
Opening the ‘window of opportunity’
This time of rapid growth offers a ‘Window of Opportunity’ to help shape baby’s future health. During this time, good nutrition is an essential part of optimizing brain development, building a robust immune system, and establishing lifelong healthy eating habits. Fostering a healthy relationship with food early on may help to lower baby’s risk of developing many long-term illnesses, particularly diet-related conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Good food for a growing belly
Pregnancy is an ideal time to focus on eating lots of nutrient-dense foods to support baby’s health, as well as your own. Baby’s nourishment comes from what you eat, so limiting high-fat, high-sugar and processed foods is a great start. You can also get a jump start on flavor training as baby will be exposed to different flavors while in the womb via amniotic fluid.
Healthy weight gain
No doubt, at some stage during your pregnancy someone will say that you’re ‘eating for two’. You may even say it yourself! And while it’s true women need more calories while pregnant—increasing from 1,800 calories during the 1st trimester to 2,400 calories during the 3rd trimester—these should come from nutritious sources. This can be as simple as having an afternoon snack of cheese and crackers or adding another serving of vegetables at dinner.
But how do moms know if they’re gaining too much or too little weight? For many moms-to-be, eating a range of vegetables, dairy foods, proteins, fruits, healthy fats, and whole grains is usually enough to support adequate weight gain while pregnant.
The American Pregnancy Association also has recommended guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy. For moms with normal pre-pregnancy weight they should expect to gain 1-4.5 pounds in the first trimester and 1-2 pounds per week in their second and third trimesters.
Of course, everyone’s different, so you should talk with your own healthcare provider about your individual ideal weight gain.
Nutrients to eat when pregnant
Proper nutrition during pregnancy helps support both mom and baby’s health. Nutrients needed during pregnancy include:
- Calcium from milk, cheese, and yoghurt
- Iron heme iron from lean red meat, non-heme iron from peas and lentils
- Vitamin A from carrots, green leafy vegetables, and sweet potatoes
- Vitamin C from citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, and strawberries
- Vitamin D from fatty fish like salmon
- Vitamin B from liver, meat, fish, and poultry
- Folate from green, leafy vegetables
Breast milk, or the perfect formula
Now baby has arrived, breast milk or formula provides all the nutrients baby needs for their first 6 months. First foods don’t start to become an important source of nutrients until around
6 months of age.
When to offer water
Until around 6 months, both breast and formula-fed babies don’t need any extra water. About 80% of breast milk is water, so along with getting all their nutrients, breast milk also keeps little one hydrated.
It’s important to wait until 6 months as giving baby water when they’re too young can:
- Fill up little tummies, making them less interested in feeding
- Cause over hydration, unbalancing baby’s electrolytes and making them unwell
However, once baby is around 6 months and eating solids you can start offering water at meal times. Learning to drink water is such a great habit to get into and can help to keep things ‘moving’ (prevent constipation). Often introducing water happens naturally when you’re introducing first foods.
Gradually start to offer baby small sips of water from a sippy cup. By age 1 baby should be drinking about 8 ounces of water a day, so in those first few months of eating solids they may only have a few ounces of water a day.
Up until 6 months old, milk is baby’s number one source of nutrition so always offer this before water and solids. As baby starts to eat more, their milk intake will naturally start to decrease so water starts to play a greater role in keeping baby hydrated.
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Know your nutrients
It doesn’t take long for baby to reach the exciting (and messy!) milestone of starting solids. You may already know that infant cereals and apple paste aren’t the best introduction to family foods because they’re nutrient-poor and high in sugar, but what’s the best way to make sure baby gets lots of yummy goodness?
Nutrients fall into two main categories, macronutrients and micronutrients. Understanding the difference and benefits of both is a great start.
Macronutrients are the body’s main supply of energy and include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Baby needs carbohydrates for optimal growth and development from vegetables such as corn and potatoes.
Protein, from lean meat, chicken, and beans, and healthy fats from fish, avocados, and olive oil are macronutrient powerhouses, so load baby up!
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, D, E, K and B and the minerals calcium, iron, and zinc. Our body needs micronutrients to function well, including for cell growth, a strong immune system, red blood cell production, and much more.
We need micronutrients in only small amounts, but without a balance of macro and micronutrients our risk of developing many diseases or long-term conditions increases.
Raising a vegan baby
Optimizing baby’s growth and development on a vegan diet means knowing which foods provide baby with the right amounts of nutrients, and when support from supplements is needed.
Iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, and vitamin D levels need monitoring as many foods rich in these nutrients are found in animal sources. Breastfeeding for longer can help but after 6 months the amount of some nutrients, especially iron, isn’t enough in breast milk alone and needs to come from other sources.
Vegan families may want to consider working with a dietitian to ensure that baby is receiving all the nutrients required to optimise growth and development.
At birth, baby’s brain is about one quarter the size of yours. And during the first 1,000 days of life, it grows faster than at any other time, reaching 80% of its adult size by age 3. That means baby’s brain uses two-thirds of all calories at this time, so a nutrient-dense diet is crucial. Ensure it’s varied, loaded with iron and good fats to support the optimal development of cognition, motor skills, behaviour, and emotions.
Revving up motor skills
We now know, there are many life-long health benefits from optimal nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life. But transitioning onto solids is also about developing other senses and motor skills.
It doesn’t take long for most babies to master swallowing puree, so start introducing baby to soft and lumpy food as soon as they seem ready. Research suggests if baby isn’t introduced to lumpy foods before 9-10 months old, it can increase food fussiness and overeating and decrease acceptance of new foods and flavors.
Finger foods help baby learn to feed themselves, chew, and teach them how to enjoy mealtimes. Every mealtime is an opportunity for baby to learn.
Weighing in on obesity
Healthy eating habits developed in the first 1,000 days of life carry through into adulthood. Good early nutrition helps form a healthy relationship with food for life. And children who learn what’s healthy, how to enjoy food in moderation, and to stop eating when full are on a great path to lifelong good health.
Prenatal influences on obesity
Like mom’s diet during pregnancy, other factors impact baby while in the womb. Mom’s weight gain during pregnancy also affects baby, with children of moms who gained more weight than recommended more likely to become overweight. Pregnancy-related diabetes also increase baby’s risk of being overweight as a child.
It’s not just genes that determine baby’s weight gain throughout life—their diet when they’re young plays a huge part. So, make the most of baby’s first 1,000 days of life by offering lots of vegetables, whole grains, and fruit.
Getting a good gut
The inside of your gut is alive with life - it’s a microscopic world called your microbiome made up of trillions of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. A healthy, diverse microbiome, thanks in large part to optimal nutrition, supports good digestion and metabolism, brain and cognitive development, a strong immune system, and physical growth.
Through a complex communication system, the brain and gut send signals to each other. Because of these two-way conversations, the health of your microbiome influences brain health and also has a knock-on influence on overall lifelong health.
Moving from a liquid diet to one with a range of foods, flavors, and textures is the biggest and most important change baby’s gut goes through. Good nutrition supports this transition and the development of a healthy microbiome.
Establishing healthy eating
As we know, the foundations for baby’s food preferences are set before baby’s third birthday. And just like other skills little ones soon master such as walking, jumping, and talking, making good food choices is something they learn.
Mom starts to introduce baby to different flavors simply by eating a range of nutritious foods. Baby is first exposed to flavors through amniotic fluid, and after birth through breast milk. This first exposure is especially important because of our inborn preference for sweet foods.
It’s probably no surprise that we humans are drawn to sweet food, especially to those of us who enjoy an after-dinner treat. Evolutionary wise, sweet foods are often high in calories and give us a quick burst of energy – which was great when we had to spend our caveman days hunting for our next meal. Now, with easy access to sugary convenience foods it’s easy to see how children can become addicted to sugar. However, the great news is that baby can learn to like savory foods, if given the opportunity. Introducing solids is a fantastic opportunity to offer a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables of all colours and flavors.
Vegetables and variety. Feed baby lots of different vegetables, flavors, colors, and spices and once baby has the hang of pureed foods, introduce different textures.
Offer food again, and again, and again. Chances are baby won’t like every new food the first time they try it, but don’t give up! It can take up to 10 exposures before those yuks turn to yum! And don’t be tempted to hide vegetables in sweet foods as in the early days a few spoonfuls of puree isn’t about nutrition, it’s about flavors and the whole experience of eating.
Be a role model. To baby you’re their whole world, and they’re busy watching and learning from you. Eat with your baby, talk about how the food tastes, what it smells like, even why it’s good for you.
And most importantly, enjoy this time. Seeing baby’s excitement when they discover their next favorite food or their sheer delight smearing food all over their high-chair and face is a moment you’ll never want to forget.
Disclaimer: The information provided is the opinion of Good Feeding, it has not been evaluated by healthcare professionals, and is for educational purposes only. Before starting any new foods or feeding practices, please consult your baby's healthcare professional.