Infant and Toddlers

Nutritional guidelines for infants and toddlers and helpful information on special problems

Milk Feeds

Babies need a lot of energy and nutritious food but can only digest a small amount of food at a time. Breast milk offers the ideal balance of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals, especially iron. It also helps build immunity, and on-going research constantly reaffirms the importance of breast feeding for physical and mental health long past babyhood. Formula milk is just that: milk formulated and processed from another animal to provide a suitable balance of nutrients for humans. Breast milk is always best and even a few weeks breast-feeding gives a baby a head-start in life.

La Leche League promotes breast feeding and offers practical advice and support to mothers who may be experiencing difficulties. Local La Leche groups are listed in the telephone directory.

For mothers for whom bottle feeding is the only realistic option, thorough sterilisation of bottles and teats is vital and instructions for making up formula milk must be carefully followed.

From around 6-7 months a baby starts getting significant nourishment from non-milk foods, so if a baby is thirsty between feeds try giving cooled boiled filtered water instead of milk to encourage this appetite.

Non-formula cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk and products can be introduced from 6 months but these should not be used as the main milk drink in place of breast or formula until a baby is a year old.

Food Sensitivity

Early weaning increases a child’s risk of developing food sensitivity and is best delayed if possible till 6 months. Sloppy purées of single foods such as baby rice, pears or fish are ideal starters. Wheat is best avoided for the first year if food sensitivities run in the family.

Food Sense

From about 6 months a baby needs extra iron, so iron-rich foods such as puréed apricots, dark green leafy vegetables (except spinach) and hard-boiled egg yolks become useful. Organically grown foods are ideal because they are free of artificial chemicals and are higher in nutrients than non-organic foods. The best method of preserving these nutrients in vegetables is by steaming rather than boiling.

If packaged foods are used, check whether sugar or salt are listed as ingredients since sugar and salt are both harmful and unnecessary for babies. The amount of sugar in a jar or packet can be gauged by its position in the list of ingredients – the nearer the top of the list it is, the more there is of it. Sugar = glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, invert sugar, syrup, hydrolised starch. Also avoid giving a baby a soother or bottle filled with sugary drinks as bathing gums in sugar is disastrous even for invisible teeth.

When a baby is old enough to take non-formula milk they should be given only full fat milk for at least 2 years, and picky eaters should be given only full fat milk for at least 5 years since fat is an important source of energy as well as providing A and D vitamins.

If a toddler is a picky eater, try not to make an issue of it. In our society a malnourished child is most likely to be one who eats a lot of processed and junk food, not one who eats too little good food. To entice a fussy eater keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand, such as carrot sticks, favourite fruits, or oventoasted wholemeal bread fingers. Milk is a filling food and a toddler who continues to take a number of bottles by day or night may simply not be hungry enough for much else and may miss out on necessary nutrients.

Special Problems

Hyperactivity:

Many children have far more energy than their parents, need far less sleep and can be difficult to manage. Some of these children may be sensitive to certain foods, especially sugar and artificial preservatives, flavours and colours, and a child’s behaviour may improve dramatically on a diet free of processed foods and drinks. A supplement of essential fatty acids can be very helpful alongside improved diet.

Coeliac:

In Ireland coeliac disease is relatively common, a good reason to delay the introduction of wheat into a baby’s diet. Symptoms include tummy pain, diarrhoea, poor appetite and general failure to thrive. These symptoms are rapidly reversed once gluten (in wheat, barley, oats and rye) is removed from the diet. IAHS shops have a useful leaflet on coeliac disease and stock a wide range of gluten free foods.

Teething:

Homeopathic chamomile granules and drops, tissue salts and Bach flower remedies can help. For a bottle-fed baby, diluting a cup of chamomile tea to make up to a litre which is then used in place of plain water to make up the formula can be soothing for both colic and teething trouble.

Colic:

Homeopathic chamomile and chamomile tea can be used as for teething. A baby’s tummy can be massaged for a few minutes firmly and gently in a clockwise direction. Check for food sensitivity, often an inability to tolerate standard cow formula. Organic cow formula or goat formula often relieves symptoms. Soy formula is also available. Mothers of breast-fed babies may find drinking fennel tea soothes their babies, and omitting foods such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli or onions often helps. Breastfeeding mothers often find that foods which cause wind for them, will also cause it for baby.

Restlessness at night:

Try 1-2 drops of lavender oil in a tablespoon of milk mixed into bath water or a drop of the oil on a baby grow (not where it could be sucked). To relax the baby further, massage the body gently with almond oil, using circular movements and working towards the heart.

Nappy Rash:

Leave nappies off as much as possible, and use unbleached, low-chemical disposable nappies or un-perfumed, low-chemical detergents if washing towelling nappies. Chamomile tea in the bath and splashed onto the baby’s bottom is soothing. IAHS stores stock a variety of effective and gentle creams and lotions. Ongoing nappy rash may indicate a fungal problem, which should be diagnosed by a qualified practitioner, and can be helped with infant acidophilus, especially if a baby has been given antibiotics.

Diarrhoea:

Ongoing diarrhoea at any age, particularly from 12-14 months, often indicates a deficiency in lactase, especially in African and Afro-American babies. Lactase is the enzyme needed to digest lactose in dairy products and the solution is to substitute dairy with soy, rice or oat milks, cheeses and desserts.

In this case, it is important to include other calcium-rich foods in the diet, such as green leafy vegetables and ground nuts and seeds, including tahini or sesame paste.

Constipation:

Try soaked, pureed dried fruit or prune juice. Flower essences may help, as can drumming fingers very lightly on the crown of a baby’s head for a few seconds several times a day. Chronic constipation can indicate dairy intolerance. A course of antibiotics can also trigger constipation, in which case powdered acidophilus very often provides a solution.

Eczema:

Recurring chestiness and ear problems are often related to dairy intolerance, especially if these symptoms run in the family. Health stores stock a wide range of dairy-free foods.

Bumps and bruises:

Can be soothed with arnica or flower essence creams. Broken skin can be healed with calendula cream and lotion. Homeopathic arnica is useful for deeper injury (and also for childbirth.) • Coughs and colds can be eased with the appropriate tissue salts or homeopathic remedies.

Cradle cap:

Gently rub the scalp with olive oil to loosen scales before washing. After washing apply calendula ointment. Don’t be tempted to pick at the scales.

Skin problems:

In young children these are often related to food sensitivity. Check this out with a qualified practitioner or health store assistant. Dry, inflammatory conditions may be helped by supplementing with fatty acids and IAHS stores stock a wide selection non-steroidal gels, creams, ointments and non-irritant soaps and detergents which can help relieve itching.

Staff in IAHS stores can provide you with advice guidance in relation to the minor problems experienced by infants and toddlers.

Guide to further reading

  • La Leche League leaflets & books [ available from local groups ]
  • Mother and Child – Jan de Vries
  • Aromatherapy forWomen and Children – Jane Dye
  • First Foods and Weaning – Ravinder Lilly

This fact sheet is for information only and is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a healthcare professional.

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