With a new baby comes plenty of fun, excitement — and questions. For parents raising their first child, it can be difficult to feel confident in your decisions, especially when it comes to nutrition for newborns.
There are so many new things to learn, after all, from the interactions of breastfeeding to the nutritional value of formulas. While all babies are different and what works for one may not be right for another, there are some general guidelines to follow when feeding a newborn.
Melody Thompson, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and pediatric nutrition researcher with Abbott, shares some best practices for nourishing newborns as well as tips for formula feeding when solely breastfeeding isn't an option.
Most women experience hormonal changes that trigger breast milk production while a baby is in utero and after birth. Most moms can breastfeed their babies within an hour after birth.
Breast milk contains the ideal mix of fat, sugar, water, protein and minerals that are necessary for a baby's growth and development. It also contains antibodies to protect the baby from illness. Because of these benefits, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life with continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced. Some women may choose to breastfeed for up to two years because of its nutritional advantages.
"Mothers should consume an extra 450 to 500 calories per day while breastfeeding."
Melody Thompson, MS, RD, registered dietitian with Abbott
"A balanced nutritious diet with plenty of water is important for a mom’s milk production," explains Thompson.
"Mothers should consume an extra 450 to 500 calories per day while breastfeeding to keep up with milk production," Thompson explains. Nursing regularly stimulates milk production and massaging the breasts can boost the volume and fat content of the milk.
Once a baby starts nursing, it's natural to wonder if your child is eating the right amount. "Generally, a newborn will take in ½ to 1 ounce per feeding for the first few days, increasing gradually as they grow," says Thompson.
But as every baby is different, it's important to know the signs of adequate nourishment. Hungry babies will often bend their arms, close their fists, bring their fingers to their mouths, or start to cry. When babies become full, they typically relax their arms and legs and start to close their eyes.
Your newborn will need to be fed at least eight to 12 times per day. These feedings can last from 10 to 15 minutes or longer on each breast. Another way to monitor nourishment is to track growth. "A baby's growth is used as a measure of nutrition status. The pediatrician will plot the baby's measurements of weight, length and head circumference on a chart to see how the baby's growth compares to reference standards," says Thompson.
Some women prefer not to breastfeed or cannot rely solely on breast milk. While breast milk is the gold standard, formula can help fill the gaps. Since 1925, Abbott has been an innovator in baby formula to give babies a strong start in life.
Here are some ingredients parents should be aware of when choosing a formula.
Breastfed children tend to have stronger immune systems than formula-fed infants and breakthrough research from Abbott found that this may be partly due to prebiotics in breast milk called Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs).*
Abbott was the first company in the world to include this important ingredient in infant formula with the introduction of Similac® Pro-Advance and Pro-Sensitive with 2'-FL HMO formula. And now formula fed babies can enjoy a benefit once only available to breastfed babies.
Once you choose a formula, the next step is finding the right baby bottle. It is more a process of elimination than a matter of personal preference — for you, anyway. Your baby will ultimately decide which is best, so be prepared to try more than one style of baby bottle and nipple.
Finally, read these tips on how to mix and prepare formula. Watered-down formula is not recommended for a baby’s health.
The AAP suggests starting solids around six months of age, but you can also watch for signals that your baby is ready to try new foods.
"Developmental signs help us understand when babies are ready to start solids," Thompson explains, "like when they can sit without support and hold their head up when they open their mouth when seeing a spoonful of food, and when they can move the food from the spoon into the mouth."
Start small by introducing infant cereal into the diet. And, in general, keep it simple and add one new food at a time.
The first year is a critical period of growth and development for infants, and by focusing on good nutrition, you can help set them on the right track.
*not from human milk
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How HMOs Can Support Infant Cognition
Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are unique prebiotics found naturally in breast milk that feed the good bacteria in the gut where approximately 70% of the immune system exists. While there are hundreds of different HMOs available in breast milk, the most abundant and well-researched among them is 2'-Fucosyllactose (2'-FL). New findings from Abbott published in the Journal of Nutrition & Food Science suggests that HMOs may help support cognition and motor development in infants. The study found that 2'-FL and 6-sialyllactose (6'-SL) HMOs together may be helpful in brain development. For the study, researchers collected a total of 82 human milk samples from women at one month postpartum to determine the impact of mothers’ weight and medical risk factors on breast milk composition. The women were asked to record weight and other variables, including gestational diabetes and smoking habits. The results of the research showed that higher levels of 6'-SL HMO in breast milk was linked to higher cognitive and motor skills scores in breastfed infants at 18 months, regardless of the mothers’ weight, diabetic status or other variables. And, greater levels of both 2'-FL and 6'-SL HMOs together were associated with higher motor skills scores at 6 and 18 months of age. Gross and fine motor skills are essential aspects of a child’s overall development. They allow a child to explore his or her environment, play with objects, demonstrate affection by reaching and holding, and demonstrate independence through mobility. This research suggests HMOs may also be important in supporting brain development in babies.