What We Feed Our Babies Matters
Maria E. Rivera MD MPH
Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a new Policy Statement on the importance of nutrition during pregnancy and very early childhood. As both a pediatrician and a mom I felt myself nodding along while also wondering, why are we not talking about this more? I barely remember the one lecture I had on nutrition during medical school. I did not have any dedicated time on nutrition during pediatrics residency, either. I’ve had to learn it on my own with additional training, which is alarming. The AAP agrees and wants experts to do better. This statement is a call to action for pediatricians. It talks through the evidence, gives resources, and is not what I would call light reading. But it is a statement that every parent should know about. I’m summarizing it in a way that is easier to digest.
Here is what every parent must know now:
What are the first 1000 days?
The first 1000 days are the period between conception and a child’s second birthday.
The first 1000 days are important for your child’s future.
This is the critical time in a child’s life when the nutrition they receive sets the lifelong foundation for their health, growth, and brain development. During this time the brain is developing the most, so the nutrients it gets are extremely important.
Weight gain alone is not enough.
In the first 1,000 days your pediatrician will monitor your child’s weight frequently. This is so important, and it is amazing to see how they grow! But the food your child eats – especially its nutrient composition – is also extremely important. Even if a child is of normal weight, the nutrients that a child is exposed to while in the womb and during the first two years of life are just as important as their weight.
Just be mindful of what you feed your children.
Even as a pediatrician with an interest in nutrition, I find the list of macro and micronutrients in the policy statement to be overwhelming. How do I know what foods contain choline or long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids? And once I do know, how do I make sure my son is getting enough? The key is remembering the basics of healthy eating.
You want a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Try to eat or offer your child fatty fish like salmon, meats, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables like dark leafy greens.
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, talk to your pediatrician to see if your child needs additional vitamin B12, Vitamin D and omega-3s.
If you want more detail on the exact nutrients the AAP outlined and which foods may contain it, click here to see what I use at home.
Wait until 6 months to introduce first foods.
Research shows that introducing food before 6 months isn’t necessary. They receive all the nutrients they need from breastmilk or formula. Early introduction of food also doesn’t help them sleep through the night (believe me, we tried).
Breastmilk is magical. Try to nurse for at least 1 year.
I don’t know about you, but some days I need extra motivation to pack my pump and commit to breastfeeding my 10 month old for at least 2 more months. It is so hard. If you can stick it out for a year, or even just one more day, do it. That said, if you can’t nurse, formula is perfectly safe and an amazing alternative that will also give your child the nutrients they need.
If you are thinking about getting pregnant, think about getting to your healthy weight.
Obesity during pregnancy increases the risk of diabetes and obesity in your child. It is also linked to decreased breastfeeding rates, can delay your milk production or limit your milk supply, and can affect your child’s development. If you are looking for an extra push to get started on your weight loss goals, this is it. Talk to your OB or get extra help to manage your weight safely, especially if you are already pregnant.
This statement is a big deal.
AAP policy statements are put together by committees of experts, after months of research and deliberation to improve the health of all children. If they say this is a topic we need to be paying attention to, we should all be listening.
Nutrition is crucial, and, as parents, we need more support.
As parents we worry so much about every aspect of our child’s care. Are they growing? Why are they not sleeping? What should I feed them? There is so much information out there and it is overwhelming.
Foublie is here to support you through every aspect of feeding your kids—during the first 1000 days and beyond. Foublie’s mission is to connect parents to nutrition experts. Every child needs a pediatrician; they need a nutritionist too.
Maria Rivera is a Pediatrician and Preventive Medicine resident at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is the co-founder of Foublie, a platform that connects parents to nutrition experts. The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of Johns Hopkins University.