written by Rebecca Feges, MS, RD, LD
The infamous question “breastfeed or bottle feed?” is posed to moms, dozens or even hundreds of times, during pregnancy and infancy. Perhaps asked by pediatricians, hospital nurses, or even curious co-workers and friends, most of us have done our research. We are prepared with a response teed up, ready to defend our position, one way or another. Yet, beyond that one question, even veteran moms often have lingering inquiries. For many parents, there is still a bit of unknown, uncharted territory when it comes to feeding our little ones. Here are some tips (founded in research and evidence-based practice) to help you navigate the first year.
Focus on thriving!
Not just nutritionally, but emotionally too. While studies have repeatedly demonstrated breastfeeding has a wide range of benefits for both mom and baby, it doesn’t always go as smoothly as we would like. There can be some unanticipated bumps along the road, especially if there are other health conditions at play. Don’t forget your mental wellness and stress levels are important to be managed, in addition to baby’s nutrition and growth, for your family to thrive. Don’t hesitate, to chat with your pediatrician, a lactation consultant, or pediatric registered dietitian if you are feeling overwhelmed with breastfeeding or need some additional assistance. Parents should not be ashamed to ask about possible infant formula options if you are headed in that direction. There are numerous formula options out there, which can all be tough to navigate without guidance.
Don’t strive too quickly to those solids.
Well-meaning friends and family may suggest adding cereal to the bottle or giving baby a taste of foods at only a couple of months old. In the medical community, we now know that babies usually thrive best when we hold off on anything aside from breastmilk or formula until about six months of age. As health professionals continue to learn more about infant feeding and nutrition, recommendations evolve overtime. So that being said, the common motto “well that’s how we always used to do it” does not mean it’s still how we do it now! There are several important developmental cues to be on the lookout for if you think your baby is ready for something in addition to their breastmilk or formula. Babies who can sit independently, show interest in what others are eating, and no longer thrust their tongue out when fed are showing signs of readiness for complementary foods. Keeping these in mind before introducing foods can help set you and baby up for success in the long run when it comes to feeding.
Practice, practice, practice.
Once your child is ready for complementary foods at that six-month mark, breastmilk or formula should actually remain the mainstay of nutritional intake until one year of age. We can think of purées and table foods as primarily for practice or fun until then. It typically takes multiple exposures to a food for children to get accustomed to that one item. We as parents should be careful of saying “he/she doesn’t like to eat that” while resisting the urge to add on extra pressure or “force” a baby or child to eat something. Keep on offering and trying! Remember that learning to eat involves quite a bit of skill development, too. Often the “steps” to eating can be just important as actually consuming the foods. Again, if you have concerns about your child’s progress with feeding, make sure to discuss with their pediatrician and/or a pediatric registered dietitian.
Rebecca is a Pediatric Clinical Dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital Specialty Care in Sugar Land.