Babies go through an amazing amount of change during their first six months of life and it’s important they get all the nutrients and energy they need during this exciting time.
Did you know your baby’s weight will double and they’ll be babbling and listening to things around them by the time they’re 4 months old – and all they need to fuel this amazing growth and development in the first 6 months of life is breast milk?
Breast milk – all the nutrition your baby needs for their first 6 months
During pregnancy you’ve been supplying all the nutrients and energy your developing baby has needed – in fact, they’ve even been storing away some of those nutrients, such as iron, to see them through the first 5-6 months of life!
Once your baby is born breast milk provides all the nutrition they need for their first 6 months of life. At around 6 months solid foods should start to be introduced into your baby’s diet as breast milk alone will no longer provide enough nutrients or energy to support all their growth and development. Breast milk will continue to be an important source of nutrition and should continue up until they are 12 months old and beyond – for as long as you and your child desire.
Breast milk acts as both a food and a drink – so breastfeeding should provide enough water for a healthy baby even during warm weather. During hot weather, however, you may need to offer your baby more frequent feeds. Giving a young baby too much extra water to drink might mean they will be taking less breast milk and so will not be getting all the nutrients and energy they require.
Breast milk – changes over time to meet your baby’s needs
Breast milk is an amazing food that adapts over time as your baby’s nutritional needs change.
Colostrum: This is baby’s first milk and is only produced in small amounts over the first few days after the birth. Although it looks very different to normal breast milk it contains high levels of protective factors (such as antibodies) that help guard against infections and other nutrients to help promote growth and development.
Mature breast milk: Over the next 2 weeks or so the composition of breast milk starts to change to meet the additional nutritional needs of a rapidly growing baby. The volume of milk produced also increases. By 4 to 6 weeks breast milk is considered fully ‘mature’ and its composition will now remain relatively unchanged.
The main nutritional components of breast milk include:
- Carbohydrates – the main carbohydrate in milk is lactose
- Proteins – whey and casein are the main forms of protein found in breast milk and provide the building blocks for baby’s growth and development
- Fats – 55% of a baby’s energy comes from the fat contained in its milk
- Vitamins and minerals – the breast milk levels of many of the vitamins and minerals a baby needs (including vitamins A, B and iodine) will vary depending on the mother’s diet and the baby’s body stores.
When breast milk is not an option, infant formula is the only suitable alternative. Commercial infant formulas have been specially developed to have a nutrition profile closer to breast milk. Babies under 12 months should not be feed evaporated or condensed milk, or any other milk substitute (such as rice, soy or almond). Cow’s milk (full-fat or skimmed) should not be given as the main milk drink to babies under 12 months old, but small quantities of cow’s milk can be used as part of their solid foods (such as adding it to cereals).
There are infant formula products available that have been specially formulated for babies who have specific nutritional needs or feeding problems, for example, infant formula for lactose intolerance. Specialty infant formulas should be used under medical supervision – your doctor, maternal health nurse or other healthcare professional will advise you on the types of formula best suited to your child’s particular needs.
If you’re concerned with your baby’s feeding or growth talk to your doctor, maternal health nurse or other healthcare professional.