Feeding Babies. Breastfeeding Benefits

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Breastfeeding_cFor the first four to six months of life, babies need nothing more than milk as this provides all the energy and nutrients that they need. Brest milk contains particular proteins called antibodies and white blood cells, which help to protect a baby from infection. Brest milk is also rich in the omega-3 essential fatty acids that are important for brain development. Resent research shows that breastfed babies may well have higher IQs than babies given infant formula. A study of school-age children reared on breast milk found their IQs were five points higher than those brought up on formula milk.

There is also evidence that breastfeeding for thirteen weeks or more reduces the incidence of gastroenteritis and respiratory infections. Breastfeeding has also been shown to delay the onset and reduce the severity of allergies in children from families with a history of asthma, hayfever, eczema and food allergies. The colostrum that a mother produces in the first few days of breastfeeding is a very important source of antibodies, so there is a benefit in breastfeeding even for a short period.

How much milk?

Between four and six months babies should have a minimum of 600 ml (20 fl oz) breast or infant formula each day. The table given below is a rough guide. Do not fill up your baby with solid foods at the expense of milk. Up to the age of six months, breast milk or infant formula should form the major part of your baby's diet.

Avoid baby drinks such as juices as the only fluid your baby needs is milk. If the weather is very hot and you feel your baby needs extra liquid, offer boiled, cooled water. There is extra fluid in the food your baby is eating because purees have a high water content.

What milk?

Cow's, goat's, sheep's, soya (non-infant carton), rice and oats milks are not suitable as your baby's main drink before one year as they do not contain enough iron and other nutrients for proper growth. Whole cow's milk can be used in cooking or with cereal from six months but should not be given as your baby's main drink before the age of one year.

Young babies have high energy and nutrient requirements so skimmed milk should not be introduced before five years because it is very low in energy. However, semi-skimmed milk can be given from the age of two if your child is eating and growing well.

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Follow-on formula has higher levels of iron, vitamin D. protein and sodium than infant formulas. It should only be given from six months of age. Follow-on milks are not intended to replace breast milk or regular infant formulas, which are suitable up to twelve months of age. However, follow-on milks are nutritionally more suitable than cow's milk and are generally recommended for children who are at risk of iron deficiency. Follow-on milks may be used until 24 months of age.

Other drinks for your baby

The only drink apart from breast or formula milk that your baby should have in the first six months is water. Boiled, cooled tap water is best. Bottled mineral water can contain high concentrations of mineral salts, which are unsuitable for young babies. High levels of nitrates, sulphates and fluoride should be avoided. Carbonated (fizzy) water is also unsuitable for babies.

Specially manufactured fruit and herbal drinks for babies can sometimes contain quite large amounts of sugar, which can lead to tooth decay. If you want to give your baby fruit juice, it is much better to squeeze your own or choose one that contains only natural fruit sugars. Orange juice is a good source of vitamin C, which will help your child to absorb iron. All fruit juices should be diluted five parts water to one part juice as even natural fruit sugars can cause tooth decay. Try to confine drinks other than water or milk to mealtimes; fruit or herbal drinks can take away a young baby's appetite from more valuable foods and milk at mealtimes.

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