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In addition to being registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants, all of our Happy Mama Mentors are certified in maternal and infant nutrition from Cornell University, three are able to chat in Spanish, and one is a twin mom!
Some of the most common topics we are asked about include:
We also have a robust content library of more than 325 articles, recipes and meal plans all written by our experts! You can get everything from articles about what to eat while breastfeeding to meal plans for specific age ranges, and even recipes for your little one! Check out our resources here!
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A few recent quotes we received from parents after using our chat service:
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Good nutrition in young children has a profound influence on
their overall health and wellbeing. This includes decreasing the risks of
disease now and later in life, maintaining a healthy weight, stabilizing their
moods, and even sharpening their minds. A healthy diet also has a positive
influence on a child’s mental and emotional well-being.
The benefits don’t stop there – did you know that healthy
eating habits are more likely to stick with you if you learn them as a child?
Creating an environment where nutrient rich foods are a priority can help to
shape your child’s lifelong eating habits and preferences. Here are some ways
to optimize your growing child’s nutrition:
Offer a variety of
foods: Offer a variety of whole foods across all food groups. Choices like
fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats such
as avocado and nut butters offer the most bang for your buck in terms of
nutritional quality. Plus, when you vary the foods offered, your little one is
getting a better balance of the nutrients he needs to grow and develop.
Keep it stress free: As much as we want our kids to eat all of their
veggies, don’t bribe or force them. Children shouldn’t have to “clean their
plates.” Let your child listen to their body and decide when they’ve had
Establish routines: Young children thrive on routine. Offer meals
and snacks at about the same time each day.
Limit processed foods: Our lives are busier than ever and sometimes
a home cooked meal just might not be in the cards. Do your best to limit the
amount of exposure your child has to convenience type foods (think packaged
meals, sugary cereals, and snack foods.) These are havens for added salts and
sugars, while also being low in nutritional quality.
Limit fruit juice: Limit your child’s intake of fruit juice to ½
cup or less per day. Offer water liberally.
Eat together: YOU are the best role model for your child. Eating
together as a family encourages your child to be a more adventurous eater, and
sets the tone for appropriate mealtime behavior. Keep the focus on the meal; eat
at the table, turn off the TV and limit other distractions.
Remember your role: Your role as the parent is to decide WHAT to
offer to your child to eat. It is their job to decide HOW MUCH or IF they will
eat at all. Mealtimes can lead to power struggles in young children. Hold your
ground with what you are offering. You may have to endure a tantrum or two, but
this will help your child learn what is expected of him at mealtimes.
Stay active: Keeping your little one active is part of a healthy
lifestyle. A good daily dose of physical activity also encourages your child to
come to the table ready to eat.
Remember, your child’s appetite changes just as ours does! Some days they may eat more than others and that is OK – your child is the best judge of when they’ve had enough. Offering a variety of options across all the food groups is the best way to encourage an overall balanced diet.
For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
The primary goal is to be your own detective, read labels,
and make inquiries at restaurants or other events involving food. Allergens can
be hidden in coatings, thickeners, spices, natural flavors, and other ingredients
found in fresh, frozen, refrigerated, and shelf-stable foods. Preparing meals and snacks at home can help
you maintain control over food sources and help prevent cross-contamination.
This meal plan is created for women who are truly allergic, or who are breastfeeding and need to undergo an elimination diet to determine what foods their infant may have an intolerance or allergy to. Taking these foods out during pregnancy or breastfeeding, if not warranted, may actually promote intolerance in your infant as complete avoidance will prevent the immune system from learning that these foods are not actually harmful. If you are breastfeeding and your infant is showing symptoms of allergy or intolerance, and you have discussed the issue with your and/or your infant’s healthcare provider (HCP), this meal plan may be used to eliminate the major allergens.
This diet can be tricky. Make sure to work closely with your HCP as he or she knows what is best for you and your baby. To determine which foods were not tolerated by your baby, your HCP may have you add these foods back into your diet one at a time after they have been eliminated for 2-4 weeks, or until your infant stops having symptoms.
Choosing meals and snacks from the below listed options will
help eliminate major allergens (dairy, soy, eggs, gluten, and peanuts) while
helping you maintain adequate nutrient intake.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient
that helps keep the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA,
material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia
anemia that makes people tired and weak.
vitamin B12 is believed to combine with folic acid to help prevent spina bifida
and other spinal and central nervous system birth defects in your baby.
Vitamin B12 that is
found in food needs the acidic environment of the stomach to separate it from
the protein that it is bound to. The synthetic B12 found in supplements does
not need to be separated, so if you have a low acid level (maybe you are taking
medication to treat reflux or peptic ulcer disease for an extended time period)
then you may have low blood levels of B12 and a supplement taken by mouth
should be just fine.
Vitamin B12 is
naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk,
and milk products. Vitamin B12 is generally not present in plant foods however
it is commonly fortified and found in breakfast cereals, soy and other
plant-based milks, nutrition bars, meat substitutes, and Red Star Vegetarian
Support Nutritional Yeast.
The top food sources
of Vitamin B12 are clams, liver, certain fortified breakfast cereals, fish,
beef and dairy products.
Supplemental vitamin B12 for vegans and lacto-ovo
vegetarians is recommended during both pregnancy and lactation to ensure that
enough vitamin B12 is transferred to the fetus and infant. Pregnant and
lactating women who follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets should consult with
their health care practitioner regarding vitamin B12 supplements for
themselves, their babies and their children.
for vitamin B12 vary. They are as follows:
foods supplemented with vitamin B12 such as breakfast cereals fortified with
100% of vitamin B12.
foods that are naturally high in vitamin B12 such as clams, liver, sockeye
salmon and rainbow trout.
you are a vegan or vegetarian, talk to your health care practitioner about a
vitamin B12 supplement.
your diet is low on animal foods such as meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese and
eggs look for fortified vitamin B12 foods. Check nutrition labels because not
all fortified foods have the same amounts.
you are a long time user of certain medications to treat gastroesophageal
reflux, peptic ulcer disease or are on metformin, talk to your health care
practitioner about checking your vitamin B12 levels or supplementation.
Paced bottle feeding is a method of feeding a baby with
breastfeeding difficulties or is temporarily away from mom. It helps “pace” the
feed similarly to a breastfeed, where baby controls the flow, and not the
It can be very useful in instances of extended latching
difficulties, instances when mom and baby are separated temporarily but want
the breastfeeding relationship to be maintained, and any other time that a
parent and/or lactation consultant or healthcare provider deems it useful.
It’s most useful for babies under 6 months old and can be
particularly effective for younger infants.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is just one method
that can help feed baby during latching difficulties or mom’s absence. Some
lactation providers are fond of a supplemental nursing system, some help moms
practice finger feeding, and there are still even more methods than that!
Some of the above methods need to be used and taught by a
trained lactation provider, while paced bottle feeding can easily be described.
Steps to paced bottle
Discuss the various methods of
feeding baby with your healthcare provider. Every method
doesn’t necessarily work for every mom, and it’s important to see which one
works for you – even if that means some experimenting!
If your goal is to get baby to
latch, don’t lose sight of it! For moms using this as an intermediate step to get baby to
latch, then keep trying to latch and working on it with your lactation
Educate other family members and
care providers about the technique.
forms of vitamin A are available in the diet.
Preformed vitamin A is found in foods from animal sources including
dairy products, fish, poultry, and meat.
Provitamin A is found in plant products. Beta-carotene is the most common type
of Provitamin A (think yellow, orange, red and dark green fruits and
vegetables). Provitamin A can be made into vitamin A by the body.
food sources of Vitamin A include:
A listed on food and supplement labels are in international units (IU), however
the RDA lists vitamin A in micrograms (mcg) of Retinol Activity Equivalents
(RAE) to account for how different forms of vitamin A have different
bioactivities (how well your body can use various forms). Converting these is complicated because
different forms of vitamin A have different usable amounts for the body. Here
are the requirements:
A deficiency is rare in the United States.
Americans are more likely to get too much vitamin A from their diets,
than too little. Excessive Vitamin A is
mostly a concern from over
supplementation. This can cause adverse effects and is of particular concern
for women who are pregnant. It would be
difficult to consume excessive vitamin A from food sources alone.
You can implement a bedtime routine as early as 7 weeks old (when your baby begins social smiling), as this period usually involves a natural shift toward an earlier bedtime. However, it is never too late to implement a bedtime routine or change your baby’s routine, so that it meets your family’s needs at that particular time.
Create a comforting environment with low stimulation activities
A good bedtime routine includes comforting and low stimulation activities, which may involve swaddling, massage, singing, reading, storytelling, breastfeeding, or feeding with the bottle or sippy cup, depending on your baby’s age. Do these activities in your child’s sleeping space in order to support positive associations with that room or space. The room environment at the end of the bedtime routine should be the same throughout the entire night. This means you should keep the lights low (as light is very stimulating to the eye and can delay sleep) and steer clear of music that changes in pitch or tone (but consistent white noise can be helpful to drown out extraneous sounds). And don’t forget to include a safety scan of the crib and sleep space in your bedtime routine!
You’re probably already consistently doing one or two things each night before your child goes to bed, such as a diaper change and putting on pajamas. These sleep associations (the conditions present at the time of sleep initiation) are easily formed in children, so think about the order in which you execute your routine and be sure it’s working for both you and your baby. For example, if you want your child to learn to initiate sleep independently, then end your bedtime routine by placing your baby in her sleep space while she’s still awake.
Adjust the bedtime routine according to your baby’s age and development
The bedtime routine for a 7 week old will be different than for a 6 month old and different still for a 2 year old, so be prepared to make appropriate updates to your routine as your child’s age and stage of development changes. For example, once your baby is confidently rolling, it will no longer be appropriate to swaddle her. Try changing your routine by singing to her while placing her in a sleep sack instead of the swaddle. Or a toddler might begin to vocalize extra requests at the end of the routine. Try clarifying the end of the routine with her by sharing a picture chart with the bedtime routine broken down concretely for her to see. Keep in mind that whenever you make an adjustment to the bedtime routine, it can take 3-4 nights for your baby to learn the new cues before she settles and becomes accustomed to her new routine.
From a very young age, babies are more likely to try foods they’ve seen other people eating, especially their parents. If your baby sees you enjoying broccoli, carrots, and spinach (from your own plate or even his tray), he’ll accept them more readily. In a survey of more than 550 parents of preschool children, the parents’ fruit and vegetable consumption was the strongest predictor of how much of these foods the kids ate. (2) So the more you sit down and eat together as a family, the more opportunities your baby has to observe your eating habits, resulting in his increased acceptance of new foods.
Family meals can offer health benefits for parents, too. Regular family meals can help us build and maintain healthy eating habits, such as consuming appropriate portions and learning to listen to our hunger and fullness cues. Adults who eat regular meals tend to weigh less and make healthier food choices. And family meals are convenient – by making one meal that everyone can eat together you avoid becoming a short order cook, which can add up to a lot more work (and stress!) to feed your family.
The benefits of family meals continue as your child grows. Older children and adolescents who have 3 or more family meals per week may be 24% more likely to eat healthy foods, 12% less likely to be overweight and 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating (3). Meal-sharing also creates an opportunity to foster comfort and support for you and your children of all ages.
Read What to Do to help you succeed in serving family meals.
Make family meals a priority
Sit down together for at least one meal a day. If that feels initially unrealistic, start by aiming to have at least 3 family meals per week because studies indicate that having 3 or more family meals per week leads to the most benefits for kids.
If family dinner seems impossible given your schedules, try sitting down together for a different meal – breakfast is an easier time for some families – or even a snack.
Model healthy eating habits
From the beginning, expose your baby to a variety of healthy food choices and appropriate mealtime behavior. Babies imitate their loved ones so it’s best to serve everyone the same food as often as possible (with textures and pieces altered to match your baby’s abilities). Remember that kids also see the less healthy foods you eat, so try to be mindful of the types of foods you put on the table and into your own mouth. And avoid using food as a reward, as this approach can undermine healthy eating habits.
Do not under nor overplay the less healthy food options
Highly refined foods are everywhere. If you minimize their role in your home and family eating habits while not making much of them when you and your child encounter them elsewhere, you’ll take away their power as a novelty or forbidden food.
Keep your family’s personal preferences in mind, but avoid becoming a short order cook
Remember that home cooking through the ages is simple cooking, putting together whole ingredients with seasoning rather than creating a fancy feast. By saving the complicated or time-consuming recipes for special occasions (unless of course you’re an experienced cook), you’ll be helping family meals become a reality.
Babies and children often accept new foods when paired with foods they already accept. So when you’re meal planning, make sure to include at least one food each family member accepts (this can be as simple as placing whole grain bread on the table alongside your entrée). However, avoid offering alternatives for the main dish as this may send the message that you don’t expect your child to learn to like new foods.
Serve foods over and over again, expanding the variety and preparation over time
Babies (and adults) learn to like foods through repeated exposure. But these exposures do not even have to involve actually eating the food. Simply seeing the food, watching others enjoy eating it, and (as your baby gets older) passing the food around at the table can all help a child learn to accept a new food.
Experiment with cooking foods different ways (sautéed, steamed, roasted or raw) and try a variety of flavor combinations to find what everyone likes best.
If your baby is brand new to solid foods, let him try (and try again) the variety of foods you make to help him develop a taste for them.
Don’t pressure your baby or toddler to eat or try specific foods
Studies show that pressuring children to eat “healthy” foods such as vegetables can backfire. Let your child choose what he wants from the foods you put on the table (or in your baby’s case, on the tray). When it comes to feeding your child, it is your job to decide what foods to offer, when to offer them and where to offer them. But your child will decide how much he eats (of the foods you’ve offered) or if he eats at all.
It’s perfectly fine (and normal) if your child only eats one or two of the foods you offer. As you serve different foods at the family table, encourage everyone to have a taste, but reassure them that they don’t have to.
Don’t stress if every meal isn’t the perfect made-from-scratch picture of health
Creating the routine of sitting down to family meals has so many benefits for your children without even considering what you put on the table. It’s ok to use prepared foods or order delivery sometimes. As always, do your best to include healthy wholesome food choices (think vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, high quality dairy, fish and lean meat), and know that you are still benefiting your family just by eating together.
Allow planned snack times to support mealtimes
Offer your baby (and yourself) sit down snacks between meals but not within 1-1.5 hours of the next mealtime. This planning will help ensure that everyone arrives at the table hungry and ready to eat what you’re serving.
The quality of the time you spend together during a family meal counts
Turn off the TV, put away phones, tablets and any other distractions, and allow everyone to focus on the food and each other. Use the occasion to support the best in each other and you’ll find the benefits of family meals become only more powerful over time. Try to keep mealtimes pleasant by avoiding any arguing or scolding. Enjoy your time together!
Talk to an expert!
Happy Mama Mentors can help make a plan for family meals for your loved ones and help trouble shoot any issues you might be having.
For more information on picky eating, please visit our Picky Eating Hub.
Below are the calcium requirements for infants and children:
Breastmilk and infant formula usually provide all the calcium needed for babies through the first year of life.
It is also important to feed your baby or toddler a varied diet including foods rich in calcium once they start solids. One fact to keep in mind as you plan your and your children’s diet is that the body absorbs calcium best when intake is spread throughout the day, and not eaten all at once.
While most people link calcium with dairy, there are many other sources to include in the diet. Getting a variety of calcium-rich foods can also expand the amount of nutrients consumed. For example, plant foods high in calcium, such as greens, beans, and nuts, are also high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, such as powerful – antioxidants. Dairy foods high in calcium are also typically high in protein and fat, both of which are also important for your baby. By feeding your baby or toddler a healthy and varied diet full of whole foods, you will succeed in providing him with the calcium he needs along with many other nutrients.
Below are some foods that can help meet calcium needs. Be sure to only provide foods and food textures that are appropriate for your child’s age and stage:
Certain substances like oxalic acid (found in raw spinach, chard and beet greens) and wheat bran inhibit calcium absorption to some degree. But know that their nutrient benefits (high levels of folic acid, potassium, magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin C, carotenes, and lutein) far outweigh their impact on calcium absorption.
Provide a variety of calcium-rich foods to your baby or toddler. Make sure you provide foods and textures that are appropriate for your baby’s age and oral motor skills.
Here’s a cheat sheet of foods with amounts of calcium by serving:
*no cow’s milk for babies under 1 year
**All calcium amounts are approximate
The goal is to introduce several different food sources throughout the day to help build their taste preferences and to aim for a good calcium intake average over the week.
Follow the recommended amount of calcium for your baby or toddler’s age
And don’t go overboard! Too much calcium-rich foods can displace other nutrients
Promote calcium intake through foods for all family members starting early on
Steadily offering calcium-rich foods, starting when your child is a baby, will benefit them as they age. Many children do not receive enough calcium, especially when they reach adolescence, so including these foods from the beginning will help them develop a taste preference for them.
Known as “essential” fatty acids, omega-3s are important for supporting heart and brain health. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA, the last of which is especially important in the development of the brain and nervous system. Because our bodies cannot make omega-3s, it is essential that we consume them through food sources (and that’s precisely why they’re referred to as essential fatty acids).
DHA and EPA come primarily from fish (or fish oil supplements), while ALA comes from soybean and canola oils, ground flaxseeds, walnuts and grass fed meat. While there are other benefits to eating ALA-rich foods, our bodiesconvert ALA into EPA and DHA at a very low rate. So unless you’re vegan or a vegetarian who doesn’t eat animal products, fatty cold-water fish are the best source of omega-3s.
During pregnancy, specific types of seafood should be avoided as they may contain high levels of methylmercury. This heavy metal can accumulate in your body over time, potentially damaging your baby’s developing brain and nervous system. These types of fish include shark, tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, tilefish and orange roughy.
Fish that are high in omega-3 and lower in mercury include wild salmon, sardines, mussels, rainbow trout and Atlantic mackerel.
Shrimp, tilapia, scallops, clams and catfish are also low-mercury options. These are high in quality protein, though lower in omega 3 fatty acids.
So how much should you be eating?
According to the newest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, pregnant women can consume 8-12 ounces of seafood weekly to contribute to their recommended intake of EPA and DHA. Demand for DHA increases during the 3rd trimester to support the rapidly developing fetal brain and nervous system.
Omega-3s are also associated with decreased risk of prematurity, as well as lower incidence of preeclampsia and gestational hypertension. Not only does the consumption of omega-3s have beneficial effects for you and your baby in utero, but it has also been shown that mothers who consumed seafood regularly during pregnancy gave birth to children who scored higher on verbal and visual acuity tests, and had greater social and communication skills at 8 years of age.
Expert organizations recommend that pregnant and lactating women get at least 1300 mg ALA and 200 mg of DHA a day so that your baby gets the necessary amount of omega-3 through breastmilk. Omega-3s are important for the continued development of your infant’s brain and retina of the eyes. If you are formula feeding, be sure to look for formulas that are enriched with DHA and ALA.
As your infant transitions into toddlerhood and begins to consume solid foods, meet omega-3 recommendations by introducing 2 ounce portions of seafood low in mercury 1 to 2 times per week. ALA-rich foods to include in their diet: ground flax, chia seeds, and plant oils such as canola, flax, and soybean.
Cow’s milk does not contain omega-3s, unlike mother’s milk or enriched formulas, and so essential fatty acids must start coming from whole food sources. Consuming omega-3s through the first few years of life is vitally important for continued cognitive and behavioral development.
Shop at the seafood counter weekly
Turn your fishmonger into your new best friend. Look for farmed lake trout or rainbow trout, wild salmon from Alaska (or even canned!), wild Atlantic mackerel, sardines, and Atlantic salmon, all of which contain high levels of omega-3s and low mercury.
Remember that fish freezes especially well, so be sure to take advantage of seafood specials and buy extra filets to freeze for another day (date and label your package; fattier fish can be frozen for up to 2 months, leaner fish for up to 6 months).
Or stock up in the canned foods aisle and grab some canned salmon, trout, or sardines.
Introduce “adult” food early on
You may not see your favorite baby food brand carrying pureed fish, but that shouldn’t stop you from introducing it to your infant. The first year of life is one of rapid growth – in physical stature as well as taste preferences – and introducing whole, nutritious foods at this period has been found to positively influence eating behaviors later in life. Fish such as salmon and even sardines are acceptable baby foods as they are good sources of omega-3s and are low in mercury.
While you may like your salmon seasoned and grilled, a simple mash of steamed, sautéed or even canned salmon is perfectly easy and nutritious to feed your infant. Consider smooshing in some avocado to make the consistency creamier and to up the good fats, or some pureed frozen peas, carrots, or sweet potato, each of which will add a little sweetness.
If your child turns their nose up at these fatty fish a few times, remember that it can take as many as 10 exposures to a new food before he eats it with gusto. Offering such nutritious “adult” foods at an early age is likely to influence his health later on.
Add in nuts, seeds or fortified foods to your family’s diet
Although fatty fish are arguably the most efficient way for you and your child to consume omega-3s, other food sources can help you meet the recommended amount.
Walnuts, ground flax seeds and chia seeds are all high in ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid, which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body. These are all easy to add into salads, smoothies, cereals and yogurts. You can also bake them into bread. Be sure to introduce walnuts (and other nuts) only when your baby or toddler can tolerate the texture. Too early and nuts can be a choking hazard if not ground!
You can also look for foods that are fortified with omega-3s. Whether you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or are not likely to meet your seafood goal, shopping for ALA or DHA enriched eggs, soy milk, juices, cooking oils and even snack foods can increase your omega-3 intake for the week.