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Most paediatricians suggest – and it is even recommended by the World Health Organization – that it is best to exclusively feed your baby breast milk for the first six months after birth. However, for some, it might become necessary to supplement with formula. In the first year of birth, babies will gain thrice their birth weight. Thus, it becomes essential that they get all the necessary nutrients right from birth.
Important Nutrients for the Child at This Stage
Your baby needs the following nutrients to grow and develop well:
- Folate – this is essential to help the cells in baby’s body to divide.
- Calcium – helps in ensuring your baby has strong teeth and bones.
- Iron – besides boosting blood cells, it helps in brain development. Your doctor might suggest iron supplements if your baby is exclusively breastfed.
- Fat – ensures healthy hair and skin while providing protection against infections. It is also useful in brain development and provides energy.
- Zinc – encourages cell repair and growth.
- Carbohydrates and proteins – these are necessary to ensure your baby gets the required energy, and growth stays on track.
- Vitamins – different types of vitamins such as A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K are essential to facilitate and enhance the normal functioning of the brain, immune system, nervous system, and blood clotting.
Infant formulas are usually fortified to ensure that they are as similar to breast milk as possible. Apart from the above nutrients, some formulas might also have essential fatty acids like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (it is a constituent of biological cell membranes, and helps in fluidity and flexibility), nucleotides, prebiotics, and probiotics.
Feeding Your Baby: Birth to 4 Months
It is important to encourage healthy eating habits in your baby right from the start. Baby feeding plans can usually be broadly categorized into three – baby-led schedules, parent-led feeding patterns, and combination feeding schedules. As the term indicates, baby-led schedules are determined by your infant and tend to be unstructured. Parent-led routines are where there are specific times for eating, playing, and sleeping. Combination feeding schedules tend to be flexible and though fixed by parents, can accommodate the child’s wishes to a certain extent. You have to determine which of these works best for your family based on baby’s needs and your daily lives.
How Much and How Often Should You Breastfeed?
As your infant grows older, the number of feedings will decline. Your baby is likely to sleep longer and have fewer bowel movements. On an average, your baby will feed about six to eight times each day. If your baby is alert, happy, active, gaining weight, developing well, wetting and soiling an adequate number of diapers or nappies each day, then it is likely that your baby is getting enough feeds. But if your infant seems unhappy after every feed, and wants to continue feeding or is cranky and cries a lot, then it might be due to inadequate feeds.
How Much and How Often Should You Formula Feed?
Breast milk is easier to digest than formula. Thus, babies on formula are likely to feed less frequently than those who are breastfed. As they grow older, the number of feeds will decline further. It is important to take care not to overfeed your baby, as it is easier for babies to drink from a bottle than the breast.
Feeding Tips for a Newborn to 4-Month-Old Infant
The nutritional requirements of babies will vary, as no two babies are alike.
Cues That Your Infant Is Hungry
- Your baby starts opens his mouth and turns his head towards the breast or the bottle.
- The infant starts sucking on his fingers or hands.
- Baby is extremely fussy and cries with clenched fists.
Signs of a Satisfied Baby
- Baby is no longer interested in the breast or the bottle.
- Falls asleep immediately after feeding, or is active and playful.
- Hands are relaxed and suck very slowly.
Other Things to Remember
- Babies tend to have growth spurts, and for some, it can be at the start of the second week and again between three and six weeks.
- Spit ups are common in young babies, because the muscular valve connecting the oesophagus and the stomach is immature. This allows some of the stomach contents to come back up.
- Bowel movements may be as frequent as one after every feed, or even once a day to once in three days (seen more in exclusively-breastfed babies). This will vary from baby to baby, and so long as your baby is keeping to his schedule, everything should be fine.
- Till the baby is about 5 to 6 months old, food will be all liquids. Avoid giving babies solid foods until they are at least six months old.
- When breastfeeding, be sure to switch breasts midway. This way, you will ensure constant milk supply and also avoid engorgement. It can take your baby anywhere between five to 15 minutes to empty one breast. Changing breasts too quickly can deprive your child of the rich hind milk, which is extremely nutritious and filling.
- Be sure to burp your baby every time you switch breasts. Babies who spit up a lot may have to be burped more often.
Food is ideally breast milk or formula for infants up to six months. If, for some reason, you need to start solids early, you can come up with a 4-month baby food schedule in consultation with your doctor.
Since babies have small tummies, they need to be fed frequently to meet their growth and developmental milestones. Since babies survive solely on milk – either breast milk or formula – for the first four months of their life, it is important to ensure that these are nutritious. Breastfeeding mothers need to eat a healthy diet, as this is what gets passed on to the baby. When picking formula, choose a reputed brand which is adequately fortified.
Disclaimer: This information is just a guide and not a substitute for medical advice from a qualified professional.