MANHATTAN, Kan. - Changes in recommendations for feeding infants and children reflect ongoing nutrition and health research, said Sandy Procter, Kansas State University Research and Extension nutrition specialist.
A mid-twentieth century move away from breastfeeding toward formula has come full circle - more mothers now are breastfeeding their babies, Procter said.
Since then, according to Jan Riordan, author of "Breastfeeding and Human Lactation," in the United States, breastfeeding declined among new mothers to a low of 25 percent in 1970. By 2001, the number of new mothers initiating breastfeeding had increased to a record 70 percent for that time period.
The change enhances the health of both mother and child because the natural benefits of breast milk cannot be replicated in infant formula, said Procter, who specializes in maternal and infant nutrition and also is a registered dietitian.
Mother´s milk provides a natural immunity for infants, said Procter, who explained that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with ongoing breast feeding for one year or as long as mother and child desire.
Nutrition and child health specialists also are pushing back recommendations for introducing solid or pureed foods, which add needed texture and nutrients for an infant´s growth and development.
The recommendation is now six months, compared with four to six
In the United States, a physician or nutrition specialist routinely recommends starting a child on rice cereal, rather than wheat or corn- based cereals that may be more likely to trigger an allergic reaction. If food allergies are known in a family -- or suspected -- postponing the introduction of foods that may be potential allergens until a child is older will allow the child´s immune system to develop and be more able to fend off the allergen.
Also, the order and types of solids that are introduced to a child´s diet vary between different cultures. The fact that foods may vary has been shown to be less important than the timing, Procter said.
Adding solid foods is a gradual process (often over a year or more) that usually begins with cereals, then fruits and vegetables before meat and poultry.
By the time a child is eight or nine months old and able to grasp finger foods, he or she may be developing self-feeding skills, she said.
"Don´t expect early efforts in self-feeding to be neat," said Procter, who suggested soft cooked vegetables, some dry cereal or even very thick oatmeal as good starters in the self-feeding stage.
Self-feeding is a growth and development step for infants, but choking is an issue, said Procter, who advised seating a child securely in a high chair and remaining with the child during feeding.
Some foods, such as chopped raw carrots or other hard or crunchy fruit or vegetable chunks, popcorn and peanut butter, pose a potential choking problem for children and are not recommended for children under three, she said.
When should an infant or young child join the family at the table?
Procter encourages pulling up the high chair (with tray) and inviting the youngest member of the family to join in family meals as soon as the child begins to enjoy solid foods.
Infants and young children who are seated at -- or near-- the family dinner table will feel more like a member of the family and, from listening to conversation and interaction at an early age, benefit from enhanced verbal skills, she said.
Often, children and toddlers will eat the same foods, only in a different form. With a few bites of fruits and veggies, a child´s plate should soon begin to look like a mini-meal.
While advancing the child´s diet is essential, "try not to make food an issue," she said. A parent´s responsibility includes providing a variety of health-promoting foods. It´s the child´s responsibility to eat, and children will typically eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full.
Nutrition research is ongoing, with current research focusing on fiber, the feeding environment, food allergies and obesity, which has been linked to the increased incidence of diabetes in children, said Procter, who also is coordinator for Kansas´ Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program.
More information on food, nutrition, health, and family meals is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension´s Web site: