Nutrition for children under three years old
Nutrition in the first three years of your child’s life is an exciting journey. From the warmth and intimacy of breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, your child will launch into an exploration of tastes and texture as they discover what they like – and don't like!
Nutrition in the first six months
Breastmilk contains all the nutrients your baby needs for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding has many benefits. It’s free and convenient – no need to scrub teats or warm formula for feeds! It also has some long-term health benefits for you. And breastmilk contains antibodies that can protect your baby from infection.
Breastfeeding isn’t always easy to start with, but finding an attachment technique
that works for you and your baby can make all the difference. You can try baby-led attachment or mother-led attachment. If you can’t feed your baby from your breast, you might be able to give him or her expressed breastmilk in a bottle.
Some mothers experience breastfeeding problems like sore nipples and nipple infections, blocked ducts, mastitis, supply issues and reflux in baby. These problems can usually be resolved with some help. Your child and family health nurse, GP or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA)
can support you. They can also help you find a lactation consultant.
You can phone the ABA Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268
Infant formula and bottle feeding
If you can’t breastfeed, or if you need to supplement breastmilk, infant formulas will give your baby the nutrition he needs. Formulas are the only safe alternative to breastmilk in the first 12 months.
Make sure you wash and sterilise bottles and teats, and use water that has been boiled. This prevents bacterial contamination that might make your baby sick.
Cow’s milk-based infant formula is recommended over formulas made from other ingredients like soybeans. If you’re thinking of feeding your baby something other than breastmilk or cow’s milk-based infant formula, talk to your GP or child and family health nurse first.
When your baby is ready, at around six months
, but not before four months, start to introduce a variety of solid foods. Signs that your baby is ready include having good head and neck control and showing an interest in food – for example, reaching out for it.
Start with iron-rich foods
like iron-fortified rice cereal, while continuing breastfeeding or formula-feeding until your baby is at least 12 months old. Your baby needs only small amounts of food for the first few months of solids, and breastmilk or formula is still his main source of nutrition.
You can introduce solids in any order, as long as you include iron-rich foods and the food is the right texture
. Between six and nine months, your baby needs to move from smooth food like pureed fruit to lumpy textures and then to finger foods like pieces of cooked vegetables. This helps him or her learn how to chew, and chewing helps his speech development.
Always supervise babies and young children when they’re eating solid food.
Allergies and solids
Introducing allergenic solid foods can actually protect your child
against developing an allergy. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) infant feeding guidelines say that in the first year of life all babies should be given allergenic solid foods including peanut butter, cooked egg, dairy and wheat products. This includes babies with a high allergy risk.
It’s a good idea to get advice from your GP, child and family health nurse, dietitian, paediatrician or allergist if your baby already has a food allergy or your family has a history of food allergy.
Choosing healthy food for babies and toddlers isn’t hard. It just means offering a wide variety of fresh foods from the five healthy food groups
- grain foods – bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, rice, corn and so on
- dairy – milk, cheese, yoghurt and so on
- protein – meat, fish, chicken, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, tofu and so on.
The most powerful way to send healthy food messages
to your child is by letting him see you make healthy eating choices every day. It’s also important to surround your child with healthy food options.
Try to eat together as a family as often as you can – eating family meals with toddlers helps them develop healthy eating habits and encourages them to try new foods. Keep the atmosphere calm and friendly. Lots of families find family meals are more enjoyable if the TV isn’t invited.
Once your baby has reached six months, you can offer cooled, boiled water in a cup. After 12 months, you don’t need to boil baby’s water, and he or she can also have full-fat cow’s milk from a cup.
Avoid giving your child sweet drinks
like cordial, soft drinks and fruit juice, or drinks containing caffeine.
For toddlers, tap water and milk are still the best drinks.
It’s normal for children’s appetites to change from day to day and meal to meal.
As a parent, you give your child healthy food and opportunities to eat it. It’s up to your child to decide how much to eat – or whether to eat at all. If your child doesn’t want to eat, try not to force them or offer food rewards. And make sure that you fill him or her up with healthy food.
Fussy eating is normal
, but it can be hard to handle. Most of the time fussy eating isn’t about food – it’s often about children wanting to be independent. If your child is healthy and has enough energy to play, learn and explore, he or she is probably eating enough.
Here are some ideas that might help if you have fussy eaters in the family:
- Make mealtimes a happy, social occasion and ignore the fussing as much as you can.
- Serve your child the same meal the family is eating. If your child doesn’t eat it, say something like, ‘Try it, it’s yummy’. If he still doesn’t want it, calmly say, ‘OK, we’ll try it another time when you’re hungry’.
- Support your child’s need for independence around food: give him some choices and let him help prepare meals.
Your child should avoid ‘sometimes’ foods. This includes fast food like pizzas and burgers, and junk food like chips, cakes and lollies.
These foods are high in salt, saturated fat and sugar, and low in fibre and nutrients. Many of these foods also contain bad fats that can increase the risk of childhood obesity and conditions like type-2 diabetes.
This article was used with permission from the Raising Children Network.