January 26, 2012

Feeding the breastfed infant beyond 6 months

First, a big congrats to all moms and families who have breastfed or provided breastmilk to their infants during the first six months after birth! We all know it's not easy!

So, what's next on the infant menu? What are the best first solids? Should parents expect the baby to nurse less often after starting solids? One thing is perfectly clear — the infant should continue breastfeeding when solids are introduced at about 6 months of age. Babies are healthiest if nursed for at least one year.

Are there benefits to breastfeeding after 1 year of age? You can certainly expect less diarrhea and fewer toddler ear infections if nursing continues, and the longer the child is breastfed, the lower mom's risk of breast cancer. There is no evidence that children need to wean at any particular age. This is a personal decision for the family.

When introducing solids, many families are familiar with starting cereals first, then adding on veggies and fruits, but breastfed babies need early foods that are high in iron. According to the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, solids that are high in iron make the best early foods for breastfed infants because by 6 months old, babies have used up most of the iron received from mom during pregnancy. What foods are high in iron? Of course we all think of meat as a main iron source. Other good sources of iron include legumes such as lentils, peas, black beans and kidney beans. In addition, egg yolk and dark leafy vegetables including spinach, collard greens and kale supply ample iron. Iron is best absorbed if the foods are eaten with food high in vitamin C, which is found in most fruits and vegetables.

Most 6-month-old breastfed babies will continue to nurse at least six times a day after solids are started. Breastmilk will still be the main source of fat and protein for several months. By 9 months of age, their volume and variety of solid food intake increases, and many babies will gradually nurse less often, perhaps four times a day.

Breastfeeding frequency beyond the first nine months is quite variable, and depends on the nature of the baby and family dynamics. Some mothers will schedule times for nursing such as before bedtime, naps, and in the morning. Other mothers welcome their babies to nurse whenever the baby is hungry, looking for comfort, or is tired. This could add up to 10 times a day. These are all personal preferences.

Above all, have your baby eat at the table with the rest of the family. This will help your baby learn to feed himself, taste and enjoy a variety of foods, and begin to develop proper table manners. Bon Appetit!