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Nutrition for Infants and Children

Breastfeeding: Complete Nutrition for Breastfed Babies

For the first six months of life, babies will get the nourishment they need from breast milk and a little regular sun exposure. Infants thrive on breast milk from their mothers. Breast milk is rich in the vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrate, and fat that an infant needs. When breastfeeding mothers consume a nutrient-rich diet, their breast milk is also full of nutrients.

Babies, like adults, need vitamin D, which normally comes from sunlight touching the skin rather than from food sources. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all breastfed infants receive 200 IU of oral vitamin D drops daily beginning during the first two months of life and continuing until the daily consumption of vitamin D-fortified foods is sufficient. This recommendation is due to the risk of sunburn and skin cancer from sun exposure and the fact that breast milk does not contain enough vitamin D to prevent rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency.

In its Breastfeeding Guidelines, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that "exclusive breast feeding is ideal nutrition and sufficient to support optimal growth and development for approximately the first 6 months of life."

In special circumstances, however, some additional vitamins may be recommended:

  • In the United States, most babies are given a one-time dose of vitamin K at birth because vitamin K does not reach the fetus well and is low in breast milk. Deficiencies can cause hemorrhaging and death. Infants should not receive supplemental vitamin K after that time, as large doses of the synthetic version can be toxic.
  • As you begin introducing new foods to your baby at approximately six months, iron-fortified cereals are a good way to meet your baby's need for iron (1 milligram per kilogram of body weight per day).
  • If you are not regularly consuming vitamin B12 from fortified food products or supplements, your breast-feeding baby will not get adequate B12. It is important for you to adjust your eating habits to include vitamin B12-fortified foods or a supplement so both you and your nursing baby get the benefits of this essential nutrient.

Breastfed babies generally don't need to be given water, since there is enough fluid in breast milk to keep them well hydrated. However, during very hot weather or when they have a fever, babies can benefit from extra fluids and may readily accept a bottle of water.

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