Deciding the right feeding plan (between breastfeeding and formula-feeding) for babies is one of the critical resolutions expectant mothers can make. Presently, many health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Dietetic Association (ADA) advocate for breastfeeding of babies up to (but not limited to) six months (Dare & O’Donovan, 2002).
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Breastfeeding aids in boosting the immune system, protecting against infections, averting allergies, and building body defenses against several chronic illnesses. This paper analyzes the nutritional requirements and looks at feeding options for an infant aged below one year.
Nutritional requirements of infants
During the first few years of infancy, children have precise nutritional requirements to ensure healthy growth and bone formation. They require fats, proteins, vitamins, carbohydrates, and minerals. Human (breast) milk and infant formula contain all the nutritional requirements of a baby during the first six months of infancy.
Breast milk comprises supplementary elements such as antibodies that aid in immune defense, which cannot be obtained from formula. The fats in breast milk, formula and certain foods offer energy and fundamental fats (such as linolenic and linoleic acids), fat-soluble vitamins (such as A, D, E and K) together with other beneficial fats.
Preferred Source of Nutrition for Infants: Breastfeeding
According to the AAP, infants should feed solely on breast milk during the initial six months (Goldman, 2007). After the six months, mothers should continue breastfeeding until the baby is approximately twelve months-old, or for a longer period depending on whether the mother and baby are comfortable with the idea.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk contains antibodies from the mother that aid in fighting infections and other conditions such as ear infections, diarrhea, meningitis, and respiratory infections.
In addition, it helps in the development of the immune system of the infants by increasing their resistance to infection and reducing their susceptibility to bacteria. Breast milk is also easily digested by the baby’s underdeveloped system since it contains easily digestible lactose, fat and protein (whey and casein). This reduces incidences of diarrhea and constipation (Lawrence & Lawrence, 2010).
Though ideal, breast milk contains insufficient amounts of vitamin D, which can be obtained from sunlight. However, due to the tender nature of the baby’s skin, mothers are advised to use supplements from the first two months until around a year when the baby has consumed sufficient vitamin D supplements.
Although most experts hold that breastfeeding is the ideal nutritional option for infants, it may not be viable for every woman. For most women, the decision to breastfeed or formula-feed is not founded on the nutritional requirements of the baby. On the contrary, it depends on their level of comfort, way of life and certain medical concerns.
For mothers who are not able to breastfeed, infant formula provides the best alternative (Mohrbacher & Kendall-Tackett, 2010). Though some mothers feel a sense of guilt when they cannot breastfeed, this guilt is unfounded as they still have an opportunity to bond with the infant during formula feeding.
Most formulas come with mixing directions as well as the nutrient information for the mother which are often simple and easy to follow. However, when prepared ahead of feeding time, formulas should be refrigerated to prevent contamination by bacteria.
When to Introduce Solid Food
Babies under one year receive a large portion their nutrition from either formula-feeding or breastfeeding. At around six months, solid foods can be introduced gradually to supplement breast milk or formula. Solid foods should be increased gradually as the baby grows older.
Babies are different and have different nutritional needs. Breast milk and formula provide sufficient nutrition to meet babies’ nutritional demands at this critical age in development. Solid foods should be introduced when the baby is ready. Nevertheless breast milk remains the ideal source of nutrition for babies during this important stage of development. Though mothers have the right to choose the best feeding plan for their children, they should be properly advised on the implications of their choices.
Dare, A., & O’Donovan, M. (2002). A practical guide to child nutrition. United Kingdom: Nelson Thornes.
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Goldman, A. S. (2007). The immune system in human milk and the developing infant. Breastfeeding Medicine, 2(4), 195-204.
Lawrence, A. R., & Lawrence, R. M. (2010). Breastfeeding: A guide for the medical profession. Missouri: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Mohrbacher, N., & Kendall-Tackett, K. (2010). Breastfeeding made simple: Seven natural laws for nursing mothers. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.