Adding DHA & ARA to Baby’s Diet

It seems there is always some particular nutrient making headlines for newly discovered benefits to both adults and children’s health. Among the popular nutrients in recent years, DHA & ARA have been particularly noted for their importance in pregnancy and infancy. This has led to concern regarding the intake of DHA & ARA in pregnant women and babies, and the popularity of supplements.

Depending on how your baby is fed, there may already be adequate levels of DHA & ARA in his diet. There are some ways, however, that you can make sure.

What are DHA & ARA?

DHA & ARA are two essential fatty acids, part of the Omega-3 fatty acid group. They are also called lipids. They are vital to proper brain and eye development in babies. The body is able to produce these two fatty acids as long as it has a good source of the other lipids required for production, but may not be able to reach the required levels without an extra source.

DHA & ARA Before Solids

In the first 6 months of life, when your baby relies entirely on breast milk or formula for sustenance, those same liquids are the only source of essential fatty acids. Babies acquire DHA & ARA from their mother during gestation, but after birth continue to receive it through breast milk. Until recently, babies fed formula were missing out on this extra supply. Most formulas on the market today, however, are fortified with DHA & ARA. Because the version added to formula is synthetic, opinions are mixed as to whether or not it has the same effect as that in breast milk.

The best way to provide your baby with essential fatty acids for brain and eye development in the first year of life is to breastfeed. Even once you add solid baby foods to baby’s diet, it can be difficult to get enough of these nutrients, so a continued supply from breast milk is important. If breastfeeding is not possible, formula will provide your baby with the synthetic version of the lipids, as well as with the other fatty acids required to allow baby’s body to make DHA & ARA.

Food Sources of DHA & ARA

The best food source of Omega-3 fatty acids are fish. Salmon is especially high in these nutrients. Other food sources include nuts and olive oil. Because DHA & ARA do not appear in a lot of foods, it can be hard to maintain the needed levels through diet alone, especially for babies who are new to solid foods. Some baby foods are now being fortified with the synthetic version, but if you can it’s best to continue breastfeeding while your baby warms up to solids and eventually can eat more of the foods that provide Omega-3’s.

As your baby progresses with solids, you can offer her fish that are low in mercury, and nut butters on whole grain toast. Try almond butter for the best nut source of fatty acids. Cooking with olive oil instead of vegetable oil will get more Omega-3’s into your diet as well, along with your baby’s diet when she is old enough to eat the foods you are eating.

Right now, the best known source of DHA & ARA for babies is breast milk. While there are other ways to provide it, if you are really concerned, try to breastfeed for as long as you possibly can.

Does Breast Size Affect Ability to Breastfeed?

Many women worry that the size of their breasts will impact the amount of milk they are able to provide for baby. Fortunately, there is no correlation between breast size and milk production. No matter what the size of your breasts, you can still successfully breastfeed your baby.

Breast Size and Milk Production

The only difference between larger breasts and smaller breasts is their capacity to store milk. Larger breasts will be able to hold more milk, and thus a woman with larger breasts may be able to go longer between feedings without feeling engorged. A woman with smaller breasts will likely feel full sooner and need to relieve the pressure either through feeding or pumping. Many women find their breasts grow even larger post-partum than during pregnancy. You may be several cup sizes above where you started when you found out you were pregnant. When your milk comes in, your size will likely peak, and then subside a bit later in the breastfeeding process.

The storage capacity of your breasts does not mean you can’t make the same amount of milk! It just means less milk is being held in the breast at any given time. Your body can quickly and easily replace the milk as the baby feeds. You can produce just as much milk with small breasts as with larger ones.

Women with very large or very small breasts may have some issues with getting baby latched on. It will take a bit of practice to figure out what works best. You can try different ways of holding the baby, or use pillows under baby’s head to get it in the right position. With some trial and error you will soon find the right placement.

What Does Affect Milk Supply?

The production of milk is a supply and demand process. Every time your baby feeds, the body kicks into gear to replace the milk that was used. The more often your baby feeds, the more milk your body will produce to keep the supply up to the need. If you have to go a long time between feedings, such as if you are at work all day, pumping during the day will keep your body producing milk. It doesn’t take long for milk production to slow down or to pick up based on the demand. If you find your milk seems a bit low, add a pumping or feeding session and it should come back up quickly.

Other factors will affect your milk production as well. Poor diet, dehydration, illness, fatigue and stress can all cause milk production to slow down. Make sure that you are eating a healthy, balanced diet and drinking plenty of fluids to support your body’s ability to make milk. It might be hard to get a good night’s sleep with a baby in the house, but rest whenever you can – even a catnap during the day can help. Taking good care of your body will keep your milk supply strong.

There are certain medications that can inhibit milk supply. Talk to your doctor before taking any medication, whether over the counter or prescription while you are breastfeeding. Even some medications deemed safe for the baby can be detrimental to your milk supply.

Women have the natural ability to produce the perfect baby food for their babies. No matter what your breast size, your baby will get the best nutrition possible from breast milk, and will be able to get enough to grow and thrive as long as you take good care of yourself.

Your Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Your days of watching what you eat aren’t over when your pregnancy ends. If you are planning to breastfeed, you will need to continue your healthy habits. Nursing your baby means that your body must provide all of the nutrition required for baby to grow strong. Your body is working hard to produce the milk, so you will need some extra calories to keep it going, but make sure you get those extra calories from healthy, nutritious foods.

What You Should Eat

A balanced diet from all four food groups is vital while you are breastfeeding. Be sure to eat a varied diet that will give you all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. You should already be used to eating well from your pregnancy, so you can simply continue those good eating habits into your nursing diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources such as poultry and fish, good sources of calcium, and whole grain options for lots of fiber.

You will probably find that in the early months of breastfeeding, you have a very good appetite. Most nursing moms will feel very hungry, and this is because the body needs a lot of fuel to keep producing that milk. A nursing mom requires about 500 calories more per day than a woman who is not nursing (and not pregnant). This means only another 200 calories above the extra 300 needed during pregnancy. Add a healthy snack or two to your daily intake to meet this need.

Adding extra fluids to your diet is a good idea while breastfeeding. It will keep you hydrated and help your milk production. Try to add several glasses of water every day.

What You Should Not Eat

The main difference between a pregnancy diet and a breastfeeding diet is that you won’t have to follow all of the same dietary restrictions you did while pregnant. Foods like sushi and eggs over-easy are no longer off the menu. Alcohol and caffeine, however, do pass into breast milk. You should continue to avoid them or consume them with great caution. Most experts recommend that you wait 2 hours after an alcoholic beverage before breastfeeding, but it’s best to skip it altogether. Caffeine is ok in moderation, but it may make baby jittery or affect sleep, so use it carefully.

Although you may have heard a lot about how certain foods can make your baby gassy or fussy, there is no reason to avoid foods such as those that are spicy unless you actually see a reaction in your baby. Most babies will not have a problem with these types of foods. A food that makes you gassy is not going to make your baby gassy, but there may be a food in your diet that baby is allergic to or simply sensitive to, which could cause gas. If you notice that your baby becomes gassy or fussy around 6 hours after eating a certain food, try eliminating it for a while to see if it helps.

Your breastfeeding diet should simply be a continuation of your healthy pregnancy diet, with a few minor changes. Just as in pregnancy, your body is feeding your baby, so keep that in mind when planning your diet. You should also continue taking supplements just as you did during pregnancy to make sure your body gets everything it needs.

The AAP’s New Stance on Food Allergies

About 50 million children in the US suffer from allergies, some of them very severe. Many new parents are extremely concerned about potential allergies in their children, and how to proceed cautiously with potentially allergenic foods, such as peanuts, shellfish, milk and eggs. As food allergies tend to be the most severe and potentially life-threatening, a great deal of research has been focused on how to reduce the risk. The AAP offers several recommendations.

When to Introduce Allergenic Foods

The AAP previously recommended delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods to a baby to prevent allergies. Recent research, however, refutes this. Previous recommendations were to avoid allergenic foods during pregnancy and through the first 2 years of life. In fact, the results might be the opposite – eating these foods during pregnancy and introducing children to them earlier may actually reduce the risk of allergies in the child. The current evidence at the very least does not support any benefit to avoiding these foods.

There is an exception to these guidelines; if there is a family history of severe food allergies, especially if the parents or siblings have allergies, it’s still a good idea to follow the old rules, and avoid exposure. Children with a genetic predisposition to food allergies should try the baby foods in question cautiously and at an older age, when they are stronger and more able to recover from a reaction.

If you are concerned about allergies, talk to your doctor to find out what the best path is for you, both during pregnancy and when your baby is born. Every case is a little different, and talking to your doctor can help you make sense of how the recommendations apply to you.

One of the best things a mother can do to prevent her baby from developing allergies is to breastfeed the baby for at least the first four months. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to have not only food allergies, but other types of allergies as well. This effect is most pronounced in children with a high risk for allergies. There is also no evidence that avoiding allergenic foods during lactation prevents or reduces the risk of allergies in the baby.

Does Your Baby Have an Allergy?

It can be hard to tell if the reaction is mild, so if you suspect an allergy, see your baby’s doctor. Not all allergic reactions will be serious or life-threatening, but an initial mild reaction does not mean that the next reaction won’t be stronger. If you notice anything strange after your baby has eaten a new food for the first time, such as a diaper rash, rash on the skin, upset stomach including strange bowel movements or vomiting, call your baby’s doctor. Avoid the food in question until you have talked it over with a medical professional.

In order to make it clear which foods are the culprits, be sure to introduce new foods one at a time, and wait a few days in between new foods. This way, you can tell which food is responsible for the reaction. You may not see a reaction the first time your baby tries the food, either. Sometimes the allergic reaction does not occur until the second or third time the food is ingested, which is why several days should be allowed in between adding to baby’s diet.

If your baby does develop an allergy, you may not have to avoid the food forever. Many childhood allergies are outgrown in time, but be cautious about re-introducing the food, should you choose to do so. If your child has not outgrown the allergy, a strong reaction is possible.

A Healthy Immune System for Baby

A healthy immune system is vital to helping your baby’s body to fight off infections and avoid illness. To keep her immune system working at peak performance, baby needs a little help from you.

In the womb, antibodies are passed to baby from her mother via the placenta. But after birth, their power will start to wane, and unless they are replace baby will be vulnerable to illness. A baby won’t start to produce her own antibodies until she is a few months old. In the meantime, there is a way to help her out.

Breastfeeding and Immunity

Breast milk is the only way to get vital antibodies to your baby in the first months of life. The AAP recommends that new mothers breastfeed for at least the first four months, but preferably exclusively for the first six months. This isn’t just because breast milk contains antibodies. It also gives your baby the optimum nutritional content she needs to be healthy. A body that is receiving all the nutrients it needs is a body that supports immune health.

Baby’s Diet and Immune Health

When your baby starts on solid baby foods, make sure to offer her a wide variety of healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables. The nutrients in these foods will help to support her immune system and keep her healthy. Look for foods high in vitamins C and E, which are known to have immunity-strengthening properties. These foods include choices like applesauce, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli and more. Also, be sure to include foods high in zinc, which also supports immune health. This important mineral appears in proteins such as chicken and eggs.

Probiotics have recently been recognized as playing a major role in immune health. They are the good bacteria that our bodies need in order to fight off any number of illnesses. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt, but use caution. Many commercial yogurts have been flash heated to maintain shelf life – which kills many of the good bacteria. Look for an all natural yogurt that has not been heated. You can also use probiotic supplements; talk to your baby’s doctor about how to implement them into baby food diet.

The Importance of Sleep

It might not be the first thing to come to mind when you think of a healthy immune system, but making sure that your baby gets the sleep he needs is actually vital to supporting a healthy immune system. In the same way that adults can get run down and become vulnerable to infection when we aren’t getting enough sleep, babies need sleep to stay healthy – and they require a lot more sleep than we do.

During sleep, the body repairs and rejuvenates itself, making it better able to fight off illness. A newborn requires upwards of 16 hours of sleep, and in the first year of life that need won’t go down much. Make sure baby gets enough rest by sticking to a bedtime routine and a nap schedule as much as you can. If baby seems to be sleeping more than usual, he might be fighting something off. Let him get his rest, and watch for further signs of illness. Sometimes all the body needs is a little extra down time to let the immune system kick in and do its job.

A healthy immune system means a healthy baby, so do everything you can to support it from the day he is born. If you pay attention to his body’s needs, your baby’s immune system will stay strong and keep him strong too.

Choices for Feeding Your Baby

One of the most important decisions you will need to make when preparing for the arrival of your new baby is how you plan to feed her. This can be a difficult and emotional topic for many new mothers, but making the decision is a little easier when you know the facts about both breast and formula feeding.

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

The American Academy of Pediatrics along with countless other medical associations all make the same recommendation: breastfeeding is the best choice for newborns. Human breast milk contains everything your baby needs to stay healthy and grow strong, including many compounds that can not be imitated by any commercial formula available today. Colostrum, the earliest breast milk that is produced in the first days after your baby’s birth, is rich in nutrients and antibodies that can’t be found anywhere else. These antibodies are crucial to strengthening your baby’s immune system.

Every mother’s breast milk is unique, and tailored precisely to the baby’s needs. Studies have shown that the composition of breast milk changes over time as your baby grows and her nutritional needs change. A mother’s body is also capable of compensating for premature birth by producing breast milk specific to the needs of a preterm infant.

Breast fed babies have a lower risk of a long list of problems later in life, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems, and allergies. Because of the antibodies in breast milk, breast fed infants will catch fewer colds in the first years and generally maintain better health overall.

Breastfeeding has other benefits as well. It costs significantly less than formula feeding, you won’t spend a lot of time on washing and sanitizing bottles, and you won’t have to worry about bringing a lot of gear with you everywhere you go. Recent research has also shown that mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

While some mothers are concerned that breastfeeding will leave the new dad out of the feeding process, a breast pump can easily solve this problem. This way, dad can take on some of the night feedings while you get some much-needed rest.

Formula Feeding

There are a number of reasons for choosing formula feeding for your newborn. Some mothers may have difficulty with milk supply or illnesses which could be transferred to the baby through breast milk. Mothers of adopted infants will not have the necessary hormones from pregnancy to produce breast milk. Working mothers may find pumping at work difficult or in some cases nearly impossible.

Formula feeding also offers the benefit of making the new dad an equal partner in the feeding process, without the extra work of having to pump breast milk for him to use. Dads can mix a bottle and feed the baby without ever having to disturb your much-needed sleep.

Today’s formulas offer better nutrition than ever before, and there are a number of formula choices on the market in case your baby’s stomach is sensitive and you need to try a different brand.

The Third Choice: Compromise

Many new mothers see the breast or formula feeding choice as an all or nothing proposition, but there is plenty of room for compromise. A combination of breast and formula feeding will ensure your baby reaps some of the benefits of breast milk while taking some of the pressure off of an already exhausted mom.

You may wish to breastfeed while you are on maternity leave, and then switch to formula when you return to work. Your baby will still have received many of the important antibodies provided by the early milk.

Whatever your choice, remember that a relaxed, happy mom is important to baby’s health and happiness too. Don’t let your feeding choice become a source of major stress in your life at a time when you need all your strength to care for your new baby.

Keeping your Baby Healthy

Few things concern new parents more than the health of their baby. Although babies are delicate and have much weaker immune systems than adults, there are a few simple things you can do as a parent to ensure your baby stays healthy.

Baby’s Immune System

Newborns enter the world with no immunity to any of the many viruses and bacteria we come into contact with every day. They must build immunity over time, and the number one thing that you can do to help baby’s immune system grow stronger is to breastfeed. Breast milk, especially the early colostrum, contains antibodies your baby can’t get anywhere else. These will strengthen her immune system and give her an edge in fighting off common childhood illnesses.

Although there has been much controversy surrounding vaccinations in the past several years, the truth is that getting your baby immunized is a vital step in keeping her protected from potentially fatal illnesses. The reason so many childhood illnesses are practically non-existent in the US today is the strong push for vaccinations. If you are interested in an alternate vaccination schedule or have concerns about vaccines, talk to your baby’s doctor.

Well-baby Check Ups

Seeing your baby’s pediatrician regularly is vital to keeping your baby healthy. Well-baby check ups are scheduled at gradually widening intervals throughout your baby’s first two years, and yearly thereafter. These visits allow your baby’s doctor to monitor his health, and catch any signs of a problem early, before it can become serious. Well-baby visits are also the time when immunizations are usually scheduled.

You should also use these check ups as an opportunity to discuss any concerns you may have regarding your baby’s health. Remember that you are the first line of defense for your baby; because you spend more time with him than your doctor does, you are more likely to notice a problem. Don’t hesitate to bring it up, even if you aren’t sure it’s worth mentioning. Anything that concerns you should be taken seriously by your baby’s doctor.

Protecting Baby’s Health

A simple precaution you can take to avoid exposing your baby to harmful germs is to make sure you wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer before you touch her. Make sure that anyone else who wishes to touch her does the same. Don’t be afraid to stand up to strangers in public who want to touch your baby! It is your job to protect her while her immune system is not yet up to the task.

Make sure to ask friends and family to avoid visiting when they are sick. A cold that might be a minor inconvenience to an adult can hospitalize a newborn, so take this seriously. Your doctor may recommend avoiding busy public places with your newborn for the first few months, especially if your baby is born during cold and flu season. This doesn’t mean you are house-bound! Just try to keep your outings to less crowded places, and again, be cautious of strangers who want to check out your precious little one. Remind them it’s ok to look, but please don’t touch.

In spite of your best efforts, it’s likely that your baby will come down with several colds in the first year of life. However, if you have done your best to bolster his immune system and keep him healthy, hopefully they will be short-lived and infrequent.

A healthy baby is a happy baby, and that makes for happy parents too!

Breastfeeding Basics

Breast milk is the best baby food for your newborns because it is full of healthy nutrition. Breast milk provides all the nutrients that a baby needs. So it is important to make sure that your baby receives enough breast milk.

How Often and How Long Should You Breastfeed?

Newborn infants should feed on cue in every 2 to 3 hours. They will usually breastfeed for about 10 to 15 minutes per breast at each feeding until they are satisfied. As the baby gets older, the baby will learn to feed more efficiently. Hence the feeding time will be shorter.

When a baby is ready to feed, they may show the following signs:

  • increased fussiness or agitation
  • tongue or lip movements
  • fists in mouth
  • open his mouth when the skin around his mouth, cheek or lips is touch
  • crying (late sign)

During the first 4 weeks, a newborn infant should be breastfed at least every 4 hours. If the infant is sleeping, he should be awakened to feed.

How Much is Enough

Counting the number of diapers produced by a newborn infant is one way of knowing if he is getting enough breast milk. A newborn baby should have 6 to 8 wet diapers after the first week of life.

Each breastfeeding session should last about 10 to 15 minute. The length of time spent at the breast is a good indicator that your baby is receiving enough breast milk. After feeding, breasts should feel softer.

Another way of checking if the newborn infant is receiving enough breast milk is by monitoring the weight gain of your infant. To ensure adequate weight gain, be sure to have your baby weighted properly after the first week.

Age Number of Feeds Stools Wet Diapers
1 to 2 Days About 8 to 12 times per day . The number of feed will incease each day . Dark green or balck meconium. 1 to 3 wet diapers.
3 to 4 Days 8 to 12 times per day

Every 2 to 3 hours

Day 3 stool may still be black.
Day 4 stoll will be lighter in color.
3 to 4 soaked diapers.
5 to 6 Days 8 to 12 times per day About 2 to 3 stools per day. Stool will be yellowish or seedy in color and texture. 6 or more heavy soaked diapers.
7 Days to 1 Month 8 to 12 times per day About 3 to 5 stools per day. 6 or more heavy soaked diapers.
1 to 4 Months 6 to 8 times per day or every 3 to 4 hours. They may begin to sleep through the night without feeding. 3 to 5 stools per day. Stool frequency varies between babies 6 or more heavy soaked diapers.

Breast Milk Express

Ideally, mother should always be available to breastfeed their babies when they are hungry. However, in reality certain situations that hinder breastfeeding are unavoidable. For such occasions, it is important to have a supply of milk that has been expressed from breast and is available for the baby whenever the baby is hungry.

Choosing a Breast Pump

Express breast milk would be easier with a breast pump. There are different types of breast pump available:

  • hand-operated breast pump
  • electric or battery-powered breast pump (for home use)
  • electric breast pump (for professional or hospital)

Hand-operated pumps and home use electric pumps are significantly less expensive than the professional- or hospital-grade pumps. However, they are not as efficient and powerful as hospital-grade breast pumps. Hospital-grade breast pumps can be rented from some hospitals, pharmacies or medical supply companies at minimal cost. Depending on how often you need to use a pump, get one which is best suit your need.

Steps for Success Breast Milk Express

  1. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before pumping breast milk. Wash the breast pump with hot soapy water and air-dried the pump. Breast pump should be sterilized on daily basis.
  2. Find a quite place to pump. An article of clothing or a blanket that smell like baby may help let down the milk. Pumping should be done as often as a mother would breastfeed her infant.
  3. Pump each breast for approximately 10-15 minutes until the milk stops flowing.
  4. Collect milk in appropriate containers. Make sure the container is sterilized and it is labeled with date and time of expression. This will help to remember the order of the milk was pumped.
  5. The expressed breast milk should be stored in refrigerator or freezer. Frozen milk should be stored in small amount, for example 60 to 125 ml. Fresh milk can be stored up to 48 hours in the fridge whereas frozen can be store up to 6 months.
  6. Defrost frozen milk overnight in refrigerator or run under warm running water. Do not microwave or place breast milk in hot water because this will destroy its immunological components. Don’t forget to test temperature of the breast milk before feeding the baby.
  7. After the feeding, discard any unfinished breast milk.

Nutrition Needs for Mom during Breastfeeding

In general, a breastfeeding mom needs 400 to 500 extra calories per day for the first 12 months because the production of breast milk requires energy. However, if you have gained more weight than you should have during pregnancy, you can add more calories only when you really need them. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

Below is a chart that shows the nutrition needs of a breastfeeding mom.

Nutrients Breastfeedign Mom Source
Vitamin A, C, E You need more vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E than when you were pregnant. Vitamin A: carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, pumpkins, mangos, milk, cheese

Vitamin C: kiwifruit, orange, grapefruit, mangos, strawberry, broccoli, tomato

Vitamin E: wheat germ, corn oil, olive oil, almonds, soy oil

B Vitamins The needs for B vitamins remain the same as they were during pregnancy.

Folate You need a little less folate than you were during pregnancy. Dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, whole fortified grains
Calcium Your calcium needs remain the same as when you were pregnant.
Iron You need less iron. However if you have anemic, you may require additional iron. Please check with your doctor.
Fibre Your fibre needs remain unchanged.
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