Breastfeeding & Infant Nutrition
For the best possible start in life, the Public Health Agency of Canada supports and promotes breastfeeding as the normal and unequalled way to provide optimal nutritional, immunological and emotional nurturing of infants and toddlers.
On this page:
- What should I know about feeding my newborn baby?
- What other food or drink are appropriate for babies?
- When should I introduce solids?
- Resources & links for Health Professionals
What should I know about feeding my newborn baby?
Breastfeeding is important for your baby's health and development
Today, most women are breastfeeding their babies. Breast milk is the best food you can offer your baby. Health Canada and the World Health Organization recommend that it should be the only food or drink for the first 6 months of life and after that, breastfeeding should continue for up to 2 years or more along with age-appropriate solid foods.
Breast milk is naturally and uniquely produced by each mother for her own baby. As your baby grows your milk will change to meet your baby's needs and is the easiest milk of all for your baby to digest. Breast milk has just the right amount of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals, and contains antibodies and other immune factors that help protect against infections and disease - protection that can last a lifetime. Breastfeeding is important for mothers' health too and nurtures a special relationship between mother and baby.
Babies need daily vitamin D
All babies need Vitamin D. Babies who are breastfed should receive a daily vitamin D supplement of 10µg (400 IU), beginning from birth. This will prevent vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to a bone disease called rickets. Non-breastfed babies do not need a vitamin D supplement because it is added to commercial infant formula.
There are rarely reasons not to breastfeed
If you smoke, consider cutting back or quitting smoking altogether. Even if you continue to smoke, breastfeeding is important for your baby's health and may help to lessen some of the negative effects that the smoking may have on your baby.
Avoid drinking alcohol if you are breastfeeding, especially while your baby is very young. After that, while it's still safest to avoid alcohol, an occasional small drink can be okay as long as you plan for it carefully. There are resources available to help you plan, such as the Health Nexus and Motherisk websites.
If you are very sick or taking prescription medication, talk to your doctor.
Support is important
Breastfeeding is natural, but it may take time for you and your baby to learn to breastfeed. It can take up to six weeks or longer to establish breastfeeding, so don't give up - it is important for your baby. If you need advice or support there are many groups and individuals available to help you, including:
- local breastfeeding support groups
- lactation consultants
- La Leche League
- public health clinic or CLSC
They have experience with the challenges you may be facing, and will understand how you feel.
Your family, friends and entire community all play important roles too. Everyone can offer encouragement so mothers feel supported to breastfeed anytime, anywhere.
What other food or drink are appropriate for babies?
For the first six months breast milk is the only food and drink your baby needs for optimal growth and development. Exclusively breastfed babies don't need any other liquids (except their vitamin D supplements).
For babies who are not breastfed, commercial infant formula is the most acceptable alternative for the first 9 to 12 months. It is important to prepare and store infant formula safely to prevent bacteria that could make your baby sick. Water used to prepare infant formula should be boiled for at least 2 minutes and cooled before serving. Babies should not be given herbal teas or other drinks.
Even if you are not breastfeeding, feeding a baby is an opportunity to bond. Mothers and fathers can make the most of the feeding experience by holding the baby close, talking softly and looking into the baby's eyes.
When should I introduce solids?
By six months of age, although breast milk is still your baby's primary food, it's time to begin adding solid foods to meet your baby's growing nutritional needs.
The first foods can vary from culture to culture and from family to family. It is important to start with foods that contain iron, which babies need for their healthy growth and brain development. Meat, meat alternatives (e.g., eggs, tofu, legumes (beans, lentils, chick peas)) and iron-fortified infant cereals are good sources of iron. Offer your baby iron-rich foods two or more times each day. The iron in meat, fish and poultry is the easiest for our bodies to absorb and use, so try to include them every day.
Aside from introducing iron-rich foods first, there is no particular order for the introduction of the other food groups. Nutritious foods that your family eats are good foods to start with, as long as they are prepared with little or no added salt or sugar, and the texture is easy for your baby to eat (soft, mashed, finely minced, etc.). If you use commercial baby foods, check the label to ensure there is no added salt or sugar. If you have concerns about allergies, introduce common food allergens one at a time, waiting 2 days before trying another. That way, if your baby has an allergic reaction, you'll have a better idea of what food might have caused it. Make sure the foods you give your baby are prepared, served and stored safely. Avoid foods that are hard, small and round, or smooth and sticky.
By one year of age, your baby's diet should contain a variety of nutritious foods from the four food groups and a variety of textures (such as ground, chopped, or tender finger foods). You can learn more about food groups and healthy eating from Canada's Food Guide.
Resources & links for Health Professionals
Healthy Canadians Posters
Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding: A Practical Workbook for Community-Based Programs was developed through a collaborative partnership between the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada (BCC). The workbook aims to provide community-based programs and front-line staff with practical, best practice strategies to promote breastfeeding within a community setting, with a special focus on reaching vulnerable populations. The workbook addresses key questions, common challenges, and includes an extensive list of breastfeeding resources and key references documents.
Breastfeeding Friendly Logo
The Breastfeeding Friendly Logo was developed in collaboration with La Leche League Canada. It can be printed and posted in areas to indicate that breastfeeding is welcome and encouraged on the premises. To save the logo to your computer, right click the image and select "Save image as..."...". To request the logo in a higher resolution format, click here or contact DCA.firstname.lastname@example.org
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