What’s new in feeding babies

When I was a young nutrition professional, I would regularly critique my mom on how she cooked for us when we were children.

“You overcooked the vegetables,” I remarked to her on one occasion.

To which she answered, “My, it’s a wonder you children ever grew up to live this long!”

Generations do find new ways to feed children. Yet some basics of proper nourishment remain year after year. And that’s what I found in the latest advice for feeding infants in the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. Here are some highlights of what’s new and what stays true:

• Breast milk is still the preferred (and only) food most babies need for the first 6 months of life. And breastfeeding should continue through the first year, if possible. Use an iron-fortified infant formula if breast milk is not available, say experts.

• Iron-rich foods should be added to baby’s diet around 6 months of age for optimal neurological development and growth. (Iron stores from birth begin to wane by 6 months and breast milk is not a great source this essential mineral.) Foods which are rich in iron include meats, seafood and iron-enriched cereals.

• In addition to iron, babies need more zinc-rich foods around 6 months of age for proper growth and strong immunity. Zinc-fortified cereals, beans and meat are good sources of this essential mineral.

• Around 6 months of age is also the best time to introduce baby to foods from all food groups (I call them nutrient groups because each category provides a mix of nutrients required for optimal growth and health.) These groups include baby-friendly vegetables, grains, fruit, protein and yogurt and cheese, including soy-based varieties. Experts continue to advise withholding cow’s milk until age 1.

• Other foods that need to be avoided during the first year of life include honey (due to a risk for botulism) and unpasteurized foods and beverages.

• Here’s a real switch: New evidence now shows delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods does not help to prevent food allergies. In fact, parents are now advised to introduce foods such as peanuts, eggs, cow milk products, tree nuts, wheat, shellfish, fish, and soy at the same time they introduce other foods into baby’s diet — at around 4-6 months. Studies show gradually introducing these foods along with other new foods when baby is 4-6 months old can actually reduce the risk for developing allergies, including peanut allergies.

• One last item: Babies are born with a taste for sweets. That’s why they latch on to breastmilk; it’s high in the natural sugar, lactose. We don’t need to feed baby’s sweet tooth with a lot of added sugars, however. Look for foods and beverages for your sweet little bundle of joy that are free of added sugars.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to [email protected]