The importance of protein, calcium, and iron for babies

Would you suggest the use of follow up formula around the age of one? How do protein, calcium, and iron play a part in my 6 month old baby's growth?


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

By age one, a baby can be transitioned to drinking whole milk. From 6 months to 12 months, according to The American Academy of Pediatrics, it makes little difference whether your baby gets follow up formula, breast milk, or regular formula (assuming the rest of his diet is adequate).

Protein, calcium and iron are all very critical nutrients in the growth and development of your 6 month old. The following will give you an overview of each:

Protein: A six month old requires about 14 grams of protein daily. It is important in maintaining and building body tissue, therefore it is critical to a growing child. It also supplies part of their daily energy requirements. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Breast milk supplies baby with the most ideal mix of these building blocks, and formula makers attempt to mimic the composition of breast milk, and do it quite well. Both breast milk and formula supplies protein in a form that is more easily digested than the protein found in straight cows milk. Low fat, or skim milk supplies too much protein per unit and can overload a baby's kidneys and their ability to handle the nitrogen found in that protein. To try and accommodate this overload, the kidneys will draw on body fluids to try and dilute the nitrogen and this can result in dehydration. Your baby will get all the protein he needs from formula and as you transition to table foods, you will gradually cut back on the formula as you introduce protein containing foods. Protein need per unit of body weight decreases as your baby gets older, so his need for protein will not increase as fast as you might think. By age two, a baby needs 16 grams of protein, up only 2 grams from his need at six months. Too little protein can result in nutritional inadequacy and suboptimal growth.

Calcium: An infant six month to 12 months needs approximately 600 milligrams of calcium daily. Mostly, the calcium is used for bone formation, growth, and maintenance. However, calcium is also critical for such vital functions as nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and blood clotting. The calcium for these functions is well guarded by the body and is maintained at the expense of bone in the face of inadequate calcium intake. Babies receive adequate calcium from formula and breastmilk. Vitamin D is necessary for the optimal absorption of calcium. When a baby is weaned, his diet should supply at least 16 ounces of milk or equivalent to help meet this need for calcium.

Iron: Iron is necessary for the proper formation of red blood cells. At birth, an infant possesses body stores of iron sufficient to sustain red blood cell production for 4 to 6 months. If supplemental iron is not supplied after that time, progressive iron deficiency can occur. An infant age 6mo. to 1 year needs 15 milligrams per day. After that the need drops to 10 milligrams per day. The effects of iron deficiency anemia can lead to long term, possibly irreversible effects on the mental development of children. Studies suggest that anemia at 9 months of age is associated with 1) impairment of the performance of infants and toddlers on tests of cognitive function, 2) poorer performance on intelligence tests at ages 3 and 5 and 3) lower learning achievement and less concentrating ability in the 2nd grade. Studies show that it is possible to prevent iron deficiency by relying on iron fortified infant cereal as the major source of iron during the first year of life. The iron from this cereal is markedly increased if the intake of vitamin C at the same meal is increased. For this reason, iron fortified infant cereal is the recommended first food for weaning. It fills an essential nutritional need as well as providing the developmental stimulation of a solid food. After age one, iron may come from other sources in the diet, particularly meat, poultry, fish, and dark green leafy vegetables. However, it is recommended that iron fortified infant cereal be continued through the second year. If iron fortified cereal is eaten there is no need for any other iron supplement. Excessive intakes of iron can lead to toxic levels accumulating in the body.

There us a lot of information here. I hope it will help your understanding of your baby's nutritional needs. Understanding certainly helps you to make informed decisions when it comes to choosing foods for your child.

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