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Early feeding for baby

Breast or Bottle

How to first feed the baby? If you can breastfeed there are so many benefits from doing so. If you can't, there is no shame in using a formula.


So why is breast milk best for baby, and mum?

When a baby is born, there is immaturity in many areas, especially in the gut. It takes time for the gut to mature and be capable of digesting foods, time to build up the level of the microbiota, the good bacteria in the gut.


In the first few days, colostrum is the first milk that a mother produces. It is a thick substance that provides babies with bioactive factors to support them in their early days now they are out of the womb. It helps build up their immunity, as well as helps them do their first poo!


Once this first phase is over, the makeup of breast milk becomes exactly right with a balance of nutrients, particularly proteins, that allows for optimal digestion and immune factors.


While breastfeeding it is important that mum looks after herself. The foods she eats will get passed through to the baby. She needs to eat a healthy diet and be wary about taking any supplements, especially vitamin A, that could potentially cause an overload. Some supplements, such as Vitamin D, are beneficial.


Advice is that calorie intake is raised by 330 Kcal for the first 6 months to ensure that there is adequate energy for baby and mum. There is a dietary recommendation that protein should be increased by 11g a day for the first 6 months. However, in developed countries, this is not usually a problem as protein is plentiful and in more foods than we think about.


Breastfeeding has other benefits that are often overlooked. It allows for a very special bond to be made between baby and mother particularly skin to skin contact. It helps with oral development, which will later enable speech development, as a baby's tongue has to work to suckle on the breast.


Finally, there are two important hormones in breast milk that allow for stimulation and production of milk. The hormones help the uterus to contract and make further pregnancy less likely, though this should not be relied on as a method of birth control.


Feeding mum takes a lot of energy, so despite an increased calorie intake, weight loss is often the result. This might be beneficial if a weight has been gained during pregnancy.


Weaning

How and when a baby is first fed and weaned is an important milestone, often not thought about very much. It can easily be one of those stages that just happens as you and your baby move forward.


It is easy to look forward to weaning with excitement, but don't rush. Getting things right at this age can make a huge difference for how solid foods are accepted as a baby grows into a toddler.


Babies need to learn to eat, they put toys, objects and their fists in their mouths to explore different textures and to allow their tongues to move in readiness to move foods when they start solids.


Six months is the ideal time to wean

There is often debate and confusion around when to wean however World Health Organisation's advice is clear that it is best to wean at 6 months.


The temptation to begin earlier often comes as parents feel that their baby is too hungry and that milk is not enough. Perhaps the baby is no longer sleeping through the night or perhaps there is peer pressure from friends and family to move on to solids.


If you ignore these cues and carry on with milk, the baby will thank you for it.


The main reason not to rush is that milk is the perfect food for babies to digest. Their immature digestive systems are geared towards milk which is gentle and does need much processing.


Solid food is full of a range of compounds that a baby's body has to process. Their digestive tract and their kidneys are simply not ready for this task until they are 6 months old. Baby needs to grow and mature before ordinary food can be digested. Leakage of the gut can occur and this may lead to food allergies and dermatitis.


Babies are born with specific refluxes, one of them being the extrusion reflex. This is the ability to push anything other than milk out of their mouth and hence prevent choking. Only when they lose this reflux at around 6 months can they begin to accept solid food. This is important to consider because an unpleasant experience early on in feeding can upset a baby's trust in being fed.


Babies need to be strong enough to eat. They need to be able to sit up by themselves in a high chair. If they are unable to sit up on their own they are not ready.


Despite these concerns about rushing weaning too early, it is important that it does begin on time. Iron is vital for a baby's growth and by six months, iron stores in the baby will have run out. Breast milk does not contain iron so moving onto solid foods is essential to replenish iron as well as other vitamins and minerals.


Credit: Sarah Scotland (BSc Nutrition, Exercise and Health(Hons) - https://sarahscotland.co.uk

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