Nutrients to look for at 6-12 months
Relative to their size, babies have a much higher need for energy, vitamins, and minerals than adults. So as you begin the exciting process of starting solid foods, emphasize nutrient-dense foods to support your baby’s healthy growth and taste development.
Remember this transition to foods is in addition to breastmilk or formula consumption; don’t use food in lieu of milk but rather as an increasingly important supplement because your baby is still receiving most of his calories and dietary nutrients from breastmilk, formula, or both.
Average weight gain and growth
Babies 6-12 months old will gain around 2-4 ounces per week. Note that breastfed babies tend to gain slightly more weight than formula-fed babies during the first few months of life, but then formula-fed babies tend to gain more weight than breastfed babies in the latter part of the first year Formula-fed babies show an initially slower but continuous increase in weight during the first 6 months. This results in higher ultimate weight-for-length than breast-fed babies. By your baby’s first birthday, he will likely weigh three times his birthweight. To accurately gauge weight gain over time, your baby should be weighed on the same scale with the same amount of clothing (or better yet, naked!). Ask your pediatrician if you have concerns with your baby’s weight gain.
Nutrients critical for growth
To guide your food choices for your baby, focus on the following vitamins and minerals, in addition to all of the nutrients your baby is continuing to get from breastmilk, formula or both. Food sources rich in these nutrients are listed below but may not be in a form appropriate for babies. Make sure to choose foods that are appropriate for your baby’s age and stage, as well as for your baby’s oral motor skill level. Questions? Ask a Happy Family Coach.
- Iron. Most easily absorbed from red meat and also found in spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables (swiss chard, beet and collard greens, bok choy, kale), and beans (lentils, garbanzos, navy, kidney, black, pinto), tofu, and iron-fortified infant cereals. When you eat iron-rich plant foods along with foods containing vitamin C, the iron absorption is improved. For example, add citrus-juice dressings on greens and bean salads to enhance iron absorption.
- Zinc. Found in beef, lamb, turkey, shrimp, pumpkin and sesame seeds, lentils, garbanzos, spinach, asparagus, quinoa, and yogurt.
- Vitamin C. Found in many fruits and vegetables and especially high in strawberries, cantaloupe, citrus, papaya, kiwi, mangoes, broccoli, and peppers.
- Vitamin A. Good sources include sweet potatoes, carrots, and other orange colored fruits and vegetables (which contain carotene that converts to vitamin A), dark green leafy vegetables (kale, collards, spinach, chard, beet and mustard greens), as well as whole milk (including cheese and butter), fish (shrimp and sardines in particular), beef and lamb.
- Vitamin D. Good sources include salmon, sardines, tuna, fortified cow’s milk and some yogurts, and some fortified whole grain cereals. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants, and combination fed (breast milk and formula) infants should be given 400 IU of vitamin D supplement in liquid form per day beginning soon after birth. Formula fed infants and older children (who drink less than 32 ounces of vitamin D fortified infant formula or milk per day) should be supplemented with 400 IU of vitamin D per day. Breastfed and bottle-fed infants should be given a vitamin D supplement in liquid form.
- Omega-3. Focus on foods like low-mercury oily fish (salmon and sardines), algae (seaweed and kelp), nuts and seeds (especially walnuts, chia and flax seeds).
Meal and snack sizes
Vary the introduction of these and other foods over multiple meals and snacks. From 6-9 months of age your baby is still learning the skills to eat solid foods, so his actual consumption may be low. At this stage, try feeding your baby 2-3 meals a day, and expect the average meal size to be only 2-4 tablespoons each. This amount can vary from child to child and from day to day, so always follow your child’s cues (and read Introducing Solids: Signs of readiness for more specifics).
By 9 months old, your baby should be ready for 3 full meals and 2 planned and nutritious snacks each day in addition to breast milk and/or formula. Expect the meal size to increase to approximately ½ to 1 cup per meal or more (less for snacks). And by his first birthday, your baby will likely be eating 3 full meals and 2-3 nutritious snacks each day.
What to do
Offer a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish, dairy and meat throughout the week.
It can feel daunting to make sure your child is taking in every single vitamin and mineral needed for development if you are focused on a single day. Instead, look to balance his diet over an entire week. It can help to keep a food log (which will also help you identify any food sensitivities or allergies, too). Make sure to offer baby skill appropriate versions of whole foods.
Once your baby is ready to eat snacks, choose snacks that are high quality wholesome foods.
Rather than having the mindset that snacks are an invitation to eat junk food, use snack time to incorporate a wide variety of the vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy, lean meat, poultry, and seafood your baby needs. Focus on providing snacks to be eaten, rather than drunk (unless, of course, your child is sick and unable to eat as he normally would), because calories from drinks are often lower in nutrients and fiber and can be loaded with sugar, additives, and even caffeine. While whole fruit smoothies do contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, you want your baby to develop important feeding skills that include chewing. You also want you baby to develop a taste for a variety of foods so offer smoothies only occasionally.
Read through Introducing Solids: First Foods & Exploring Textures for a step by step guide for how to introduce foods to baby.
Become familiar with all of the vitamins and minerals in the foods you are feeding your baby.
Consult with a Happy Family Coach or primary healthcare provider to learn about your baby’s nutrition needs, the recommended daily requirements for micronutrients, and how to satisfy your baby’s specific intake needs.
Kelly Mom Parenting and Breastfeeding, Kelly Mom
Clinical Growth Charts, Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Lawson M. Contemporary aspects of infant feeding. Pediatric Nursing 2007 19 39-45
Satter, Ellyn. (2005) Your Child’s Weight: Helping without Harming. Kelcy Press, Madison, WI.
Infant and Newborn Nutrition, US National Library of Medice
George Mataljan Foundation: World’s Healthiest Foods, whfoods.org