Since their tummy is so small, and breastmilk is the main source of nutrition, at around 6 months of age they will only be taking small amounts of food. Even these beginning bites are important for their development. Your baby has high needs for nutrition, but only a small stomach that may be filled quickly.
Babies have different nutritional needs than older children and adults
At around 6 months, when the iron stores that your baby was born with become low, your baby will require a source of iron in addition to breastmilk. Iron-fortified infant cereal, or pureed meat, are often recommended as one of baby’s first foods, because they are such a good source of iron.
In the first two years, babies and toddlers have much higher needs for several nutrients compared to that of an older child or adult, when considering their weight.
Protein is important for growth, health, and so much more
Around 6 months of age, your baby has likely doubled their birth weight and by their first birthday, they will have almost tripled their birth weight and increased in height by half. This first year will be the most rapid growth of their life. One of the key nutrients for your baby is protein. Protein is needed to help build growing muscles and bones as well as repairing body tissues.
Breastmilk provides just the right mix of high-quality protein in the amounts needed for your growing baby under 6 months of age. The levels of protein in breastmilk help your child achieve a healthy weight.
Once solid foods are introduced, follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines regarding how much protein foods to include in your child’s diet. Australian data shows children are consuming more protein than what is recommended for healthy growth and development. Too much protein in early life may cause unwanted weight gain. Read more here for guide on starting solid food.
Breastmilk and solid foods – the perfect pair
The introduction of solid foods at around 6 months is not meant to replace breastmilk, but rather be a complement to the nutrition in breastmilk - which is why first foods are sometimes referred to as complementary foods.
At around 6 months of age, introduction of nutrient packed solid foods is important for the following reasons:
- Provides a source of extra nutrients your baby requires, in addition to breastmilk.
- Teaches baby to eat from a spoon.
- Introduces baby to flavours and textures to help them learn acceptance of these new nutritious foods.
- Introducing common allergenic foods may reduce the risk of allergy; ask your healthcare professional if concerned over introducing foods to your baby.
As your baby is learning new flavours and textures, breastmilk is still the main source of their energy needs. Breastmilk continues to provide most of their energy needs until they are consuming more solid foods and they start on usual family foods at around 12 months.
Your baby will drink as much breastmilk as they need, and from 6-12 months you will see that as their appetite for solid foods increases, they will consume less breastmilk. When selecting foods for your baby, remember that their stomach is small. They have little room for foods that don’t provide necessary nutrients. Offer your baby foods that are high in the nutrients their growing body requires, especially foods like iron-fortified infant cereal and pureed meats, as well as fruits and vegetables for other minerals and vitamins. Remember to respect your babies hunger and fullness cues by not pressuring them to eat when they show you that they are no longer hungry. Another meal will come soon, and your baby may be hungrier at that time.