“Parents have an important role in determining their kid’s nutritional health,” says Rusli. Babies need enough calories, proteins, and nutrients – both in utero and early childhood – for optimal health. Here are some things babies should eat during their first 1,000 days.
Iron: “A baby is born with a certain amount of iron. That naturally depletes between 4-6 months, so it’s important to feed Baby foods that are high in iron,” says Rusli. About one in 10 kids don’t get enough iron – and deficiency can lead to irritability, impaired social behavior, learning disabilities, depression later in life, and other side effects. Even when iron deficiency is resolved during the first 1,000 days, cognitive effects can last into adulthood, says Rusli. Therefire it’s important to focus on iron from pregnancy through age two.
Iodine: Sullivan emphasizes that iodine is vital for brain development, and lack of iodine (partly caused by the popularity of non-iodized sea salt) could impair brain function.
Folate: Necessary for the brain and spinal cord, folate is a key nutrient during pregnancy and after birth. Sources of folate include leafy green vegetables, some fruits, grains, and prenatal vitamins with folic acid.
Calcium: “Calcium is great as kids’ bones are becoming dense,” says Rusli. The nutrient also promotes healthy teeth, nerves, muscles, and blood clotting function.
Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (like DHA): The right kinds of fat – specifically long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids like DHA – promote brain health and immunity. That’s partly why pregnant woman are encouraged to eat low-mercury fresh fish during pregnancy.
Vitamin A: Your cells, major organs, and vision rely on Vitamin A. “Deficiency is rare but it’s a global issue,” says Sullivan.
Other Nutrients: According to 1,000 Days, other important nutrients during the first 1,00 days include vitamin B12, vitamin B6, vitamin D, vitamin K, selenium, copper, zinc, choline, and protein.
Varied Tastes and Textures: “Kids don’t come out of the womb asking for chocolate cake. You set their baseline and taste preferences,” says Rusli. Toddlers cement their palette by age three, so it’s important to introduce them to a variety of healthy foods during the first 1,000 days. “It can take a dozen or so times before a baby has adjusted to a new flavor. Keep trying,” she adds. “The more flavors your baby is exposed to early on, the less likely they are to turn into picky eaters down the road.”
Foods to Avoid: To prevent obesity and problems associated with it, Sullivan recommends avoiding foods with added sugar during pregnancy and infancy. She also suggests staying away from processed meat, excess sodium, and junk food. And be sure to read food labels carefully: “Just because something says kale in big, bubbly letters on the front, doesn’t mean that it’s the equivalent of a lush kale salad – kale may be the 5th or 6th ingredient down,” says Rusli.
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