Family Health

Good Nutrition Vital for Baby's First 1,000 Days

From birth to three

From the moment your child is born, your baby begins a steady climb of growth and development. And now new research shows the first 1,000 days of life are vital when it comes to that development.

A better brain

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Nutrition recently released a study which determined the first 1,000 days of a child’s life – from conception to three years of age – are the most important in terms of neurologic development or development of the brain. Providing the optimum nutrition during this time helps to ensure healthy brain connections and healthy development.

Importance of good nutrition

Studies show that adequate amounts of key macro and micro nutrients at critical periods in development – the first 1,000 days – will foster healthy brain development. Falling short means critical malnourishment for body and brain.

There are two definitions of malnutrition, where children may miss out on what they need in terms of nutrition. Commonly, we think of malnutrition as under nutrition or inadequate amounts of protein, calories and fat. However, obesity can also be considered malnutrition as oftentimes, excessive calories may be ingested at the expense of the key nutrients a child needs. 

What are the nutrients my child needs?

Breast milk: The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life. We then support breastfeeding up through the first year with the addition of complementary, solid foods. 

Protein: Lean meats, chicken, legumes, eggs, fish and nuts are all great resources for adding protein to your child’s diet. 

Zinc: Zinc is important for maintaining our immune system. Breast milk is low in zinc and iron. Infant cereals are often fortified with both iron and zinc which can help to replenish a child’s stores. Other good sources of zinc include whole wheat products, legumes and corn. 

Iron: Iron is important for brain development as well as a building block for our red blood cells. Breast milk can be low in iron and exclusively breastfed infants should supplement with a liquid iron or multivitamin with iron supplements. Infant cereals are fortified with iron. Meats and leafy greens, such as spinach, are also an excellent source of iron. 

Choline: Eggs are a good source of choline and scrambled eggs can be a great first food. 

Folate: Folic acid is highly recommended by both OB/GYNs and pediatricians for the new mom to take throughout her pregnancy. Folate is important in early neurologic development shortly after conception, but also important for the baby after delivery. Leafy greens are an excellent source of Folate. Breastfeeding moms should get lots of folate, and when baby starts on solids at 4-6 months, pureed dark leafy greens are important to add to their diet.

Iodine: Tuna, cod, shrimp are good sources of iodine. Eggs are an excellent source of iodine as well. 

Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: The good fats help with neurodevelopment. Fish, such as salmon is an excellent resource. Avocadoes, nut butters, walnuts are also good choices. 

Vitamin A: Vitamin A is very important for eye health. Vitamin A can be found in carrots, sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

Vitamin D: We recommend at least 400 IU daily, this can be given in a liquid vitamin D or liquid multivitamin. We do get some vitamin D from the sun. Vitamin D is also found in liver or cod liver oil. Vitamin D is a vitamin that needs to be taken in high levels, and it doesn't transfer well through breastmilk. That's why we recommend vitamin D supplementation to infants throughout the first year. If the baby is formula-fed, they need to take vitamin D sedimentation until they're taking closer to 30 ounces of formula per day. The formulas are fortified with the vitamins as well.

Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine, can be found in poultry, beef, fish, whole grains, nuts, beans, bananas and potatoes. 

Vitamin B12: Cobalamin- can be found in dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry and shellfish. Cow milk to drink is not recommended until after 1 year of age, however, a parent can certainly start to introduce dairy foods such as yogurt or cheese after 6 months of age 

Balance is important

This is a new way to think of introducing foods to your little one. Balance is important when introducing a variety of foods but also to ensure that we are introducing the nutrients that a child needs for optimal development. If you have questions about how to feed your baby, or how to incorporate these key nutrients into your infant or toddler’s diet, discuss with your Methodist Physicians Clinic pediatrician and ask for resources on starting foods. 

About the Author

Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Walenz loves seeing kids grow as well as helping them lead long and healthy lives. She is especially interested in nutrition, growth and development.

Dr. Walenz sees patients at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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