Whether to feed formula or breast milk is an important decision for parents. Breastfeeding may not be your first choice: your lifestyle, comfort level, and any medical conditions you might have may make breastfeeding difficult, if not impossible. But if you can manage it, breastfeeding is the ideal nutritional choice for babies, according to the experts, including the America Dietetic Association (ADA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least 6 months, and longer if possible.
Breastfeeding has some real advantages. Breast milk can protect your infant against allergies, ear infections, obesity, asthma, diabetes, and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Babies who are breastfed have fewer hospital visits and infections than babies fed formula. The key components in breast milk—fat, protein and lactose—are easily digested by babies, even those whose systems are not fully developed, such as premature babies. Even the iron in breastmilk is highly bioavailable compared to the iron in iron-fortified formulas.
And breastmilk is free! And in some families, that can be a real benefit. The immune-building protection babies receive through their mothers’ milk may also translate into fewer doctor visits, plus money saved in prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Mothers of breast-fed babies are not as likely to have to take time off work to take care of a sick infant.
Breast milk is always at the right temperature, readily available, and fresh. There’s no need to leave your cozy bed at night to warm bottles, and no bottles to wash and sterilize! Some studies have suggested that breastfed babies tend toward higher IQs than those who were fed formula. Breast milk tastes different according to what the mother has been eating, which helps introduce baby to differing tastes at an early age.
Lastly, the “skin-to-skin” contact between mother and infant helps them bond, and provides critical touching, which all babies need.
Feeding a toddler presents a few more problems. Toddlers are going through important developmental changes in the years 1 to 3. While struggling with issues of control and independence, toddlers’ growth rate slows, and they may not have the appetite of the infant. This is the time for parents to introduce some structure and limits to mealtimes, to ensure the toddler gets the proper nutrition.
Here are some tips:
- Meals and snacks should be presented regularly.
- Try to avoid fighting with your toddler over food. Ellyn Satter, a well-known expert in infant and child feeding, describes the ideal feeding relationship between parent and child as follows: the parent decides what will be served and when. The child decides whether–and how much–of that food to eat. Pressure, coersion and force feeding are likely to create power struggles during mealtimes that may ultimately make your child a pickier eater.
- Remember that toddlers may be frightened of new things and may feel threatened if forced to eat unfamiliar foods. Introduce them slowly, be flexible and persistent! It can take up to 15 times of being exposed to a new food for a child to accept it.
- Keep portions small, about a fourth of what you would eat.
- Go easy on juices, no more than 4 to 6 ounces daily. Milk and water are the drinks of choice for toddlers, and sweetened fruit drinks or soda are not appropriate for toddlers.
- Cut your toddler’s food into small pieces, and give them some soft food that is easy to eat.
- Serve foods at room temperature; use a small spoon and blunt-pronged fork.
- Prevent choking by avoiding hard-to-chew or hard-to-swallow foods such as raw carrots, peanut butter, jelly beans, and gum drops. If you feed your toddler hot dogs or grapes, cut them in very small pieces (smaller than round slices, which can become lodged in a child’s throat) and watch carefully.
- Be sure your toddler sits still while eating; no jumping or getting down and running around, especially with food in the mouth.
- Allow your toddler to help choose healthy foods.
If you run into problems, check with your doctor.
The first thing to remember in connection with feeding small children is never force them to clean their plates. They should be given plenty of time to eat until they are satisfied, but don’t force them or set time limits. Let Ellyn Satter’s feeding relationship guidelines inform your approach to mealtimes with your school-aged children, too.
A small child will look to you to show him or her proper eating habits. Small children need an example to follow, so be sure you have good eating habits.
Choose colorful foods full of flavor for your child. Some children don’t like strong or heavily spiced flavors, while others love spicy sauces and pickles. Serve their food at room temperature or near that. Children generally love vivid colors, including yellow, pink, orange, and green. Giving them colorful eating utensils will encourage them to eat and make the process fun.
To keep your child from focusing on one or two favorite foods, let them help plan and prepare their food. If they have chosen the bright vegetable or fruit themselves, they are more likely to eat it. Introduce new foods a little at a time and in small portions. The young child’s appetite will vary from day to day, so don’t be surprised if suddenly your child refuses food.
Encourage your child to eat foods that are low in fat, especially saturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in meat and dairy products like butter, whole milk, and cream. These foods may increase the risk of heart problems later in life. Try to avoid foods with added sugar, which leads to tooth decay, and don’t use much, if any, salt.
If you develop sound eating habits, your children are likely to follow your example.