The Nutritional Needs of Babies from Six to 12 Months
6 min read
Co-written by nutritionist Catherine Lippe RNutr BSc(Hons).
Your little one’s first experiences with food can set them up for life, so it’s important to know what to give them!
The most important thing is to ensure they are exposed to a variety of nutritious foods as part of the weaning journey. This blog goes into a bit more detail regarding the nutrients to look out for.
Six-to-twelve months is often referred to as the weaning age, when your little one takes their first steps into the world of food. This time in their lives can be hugely exciting, as you introduce them to a world of new flavours and textures.
As your little one develops through this period, they will gradually rely less on milk feeds (breast or formula) and more on solid food for their nutrients. Including lots of variety in the weaning diet will help ensure your baby is exposed to a variety of flavours and receives the goodness they need.
Our Babease baby food pouches offer a variety of ingredients and nutrients and can offer support for busy parents. In this blog, we’re looking at the key nutrients for your baby and where you can provide them.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s nutrition, we recommend speaking to a healthcare professional, who can provide advice specific to your little one.
The Key Nutrients for Weaning Babies (6-12 months)
There are so many nutrients out there, each offering something different to support your baby’s overall health. Here are some of the most important for your little one.
Iron is a hugely important part of the human body. The primary role of iron is helping red blood cells transport oxygen around the body, so we all need to make sure we’re getting enough!
For babies and young children, iron is particularly important in supporting both their physical and cognitive development.
Breast or formula milk will usually provide enough iron for your baby until around 6 months. From 6 months onwards, when your baby is growing rapidly and iron stores are starting to drop, it’s a good idea to include iron-rich foods in the weaning diet.
Iron in Baby Food
Many different foods can provide your little one with the iron they need. Some of the most common include:
- Red meats
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Smooth nut butters
- Dark green leafy vegetables (such as spinach or kale)
- Beans or lentils
You can read more about iron and how to ensure your baby is getting enough in our blog.
Zinc plays an important role in our body’s immune system, which explains why it’s so essential for your little one! Just like iron, it also supports your baby’s physical growth and development.
Babies can get sufficient amounts of zinc from breastmilk or formula milk for the first six months. After six months, it’s a good idea to include additional zinc in the weaning diet.
Zinc in Baby Food
Some zinc-rich foods to incorporate in your little one’s diet include:
- Red meats (e.g. beef, lamb)
- Pulses and beans
- Wholegrain foods, such as brown bread or wholegrain cereals
Omega-3 fatty acids support the healthy development of your baby’s eye and brain. They are referred to as essential fatty acids, meaning the body can’t make them itself and they must be obtained from the diet.
The three main forms of omega-3 fatty acids are:
Omega-3 in Baby Food
DHA and EPA are considered to have the most health benefits and can be found abundantly in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herrings, pilchards, sardines and trout. Including oily fish in your baby’s diet twice a week (but no more than twice due to the levels of pollutants these fish may contain) will provide your baby with enough DHA and EPA.
If your baby is vegetarian or vegan, the following foods will provide omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA:
- Ground flax seeds
- Walnut oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Hemp oil
- Chia seeds
- Soya beans
Omega-3-enriched foods such as eggs (if eaten), bread and spreads.
The body can convert ALA into the health-boosting DHA and EPA versions. This conversion rate isn’t hugely efficient so it’s a good idea to include the above foods regularly if your baby does not eat oily fish.
It is also possible to offer EPA and DHA supplements for your baby. Check the supplement is suitable for your baby’s age and always follow the suggested dose.
Omega-3 fatty acids can also be passed through breastmilk to the baby so it’s a good idea for mum to include oily fish in her diet 1-2 times per week (no more than 2) or to take a supplement if she is breastfeeding. Infant formula milks also contain added omega-3 fatty acids.
Babies grow at a very rapid rate during their first year and need more calories per Kg of body weight than at any other time in their life.
In order to meet your baby’s energy requirements, it’s a good idea to focus on energy-dense foods.
Energy in Baby Food
Energy-dense foods you could offer your baby include:
- Nut butters
- Whole or Greek yoghurt
- Whole fat cheese
- Olive, rapeseed or other vegetable-based oils for cooking
- Butter (unsalted)
Vitamin D is important for your baby’s bone strength and development. There is some evidence that it also supports a healthy immune system.
Vitamin D in Baby Food
Whilst some foods contain vitamin D such as egg yolks, oily fish and fortified products such as some brands of breakfast cereal, milk and yoghurt, we don’t get enough vitamin D from food.
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. In the UK, we are not usually exposed to the right type of UV ray, nor for long enough, to make enough vitamin D. This is especially true for babies because we are careful to keep them covered up or protected from the sun.
Therefore, it is recommended for all babies to take a vitamin D supplement of 8.5-10 micrograms per day from birth. From six months to five years and for all breastfeeding and pregnant women, a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms per day is recommended.
Vitamins support many aspects of our health, particularly at a young age. These micronutrients play a massive role in countless bodily functions, so it’s essential that we get all that we need.
There are many vitamins out there, but the main ones to focus on for your baby are:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Vitamins in Baby Food
Many foods contain a combination of vitamins and minerals and this is especially true for fruit and veg. Offering different vegetables and fruits gradually in the weaning diet will help to ensure that your baby is receiving a variety of vitamins and minerals.
After focusing on green vegetables for your baby’s first tastes, it can be useful to include a variety of colours in the weaning diet. Different-coloured fruits and vegetables all provide different vitamins and minerals so the term ‘eat a rainbow’ is helpful for your baby as well as you.
There are, however, a few vitamins that your baby may not be able to get enough of from their diet, even if they eat a variety of foods and colours.
We have already mentioned the need to offer a vitamin D supplement to your baby daily. In the UK, the government also recommends that all children from six months to five years are given a daily supplement of vitamin A (233µg) and C (20mg).
This supplement is needed because children at this age are growing rapidly, yet their tummies are small. Even if they are eating well, they may not be able to get enough of these key nutrients to support their rapidly-growing bodies and brains.
This guidance is regardless of whether mum is taking a vitamin D or multivitamin supplement during breastfeeding. However, if your baby has more than 500ml of infant formula each day, they will not need these supplements, since formula milk is already fortified with vitamins A, C and D.
Meal Ideas for Baby Weaning at 6 Months
There are many different ways to start the weaning journey with your little one. If you want to start with spoon-feeding, our sweet potato and squash mash is full of goodness!
If you want to share a quick treat with your budding foodie, why not treat them to some pumpkin pancakes? These are quick to make and perfectly fluffy for little hands and mouths!
Meal Ideas for Baby Weaning from 7-8 Months
At this stage, you will likely start to share more meals with your little one - this is a great way to get them more enthusiastic about food! This turkey bolognese recipe is full of nutritious goodness and can be blitzed and served with baby pasta.
Another treat for the whole family is our mock’eroons recipe. All it takes is some dried apricots and your favourite nut butter, and you have a wonderful little jewel that’s perfect for weaning!
Meal Ideas for Baby Weaning from 9-12 Months
This time is perfect for introducing your little one to an even wider range of tastes and textures! Our kale and bean burgers are full of protein and perfect for the whole family.
As they get older, you can even look to get them involved in a little bit of baking - we know how much babies like mashing food! Why not get them involved in creating these simple butternut squash cookies?
During this stage of your baby’s life, the most important thing is to ensure your little one gets a nutritious and varied diet. So long as they’re tasting a wide range of foods, combined with a daily supplement containing vitamins A, C and D, they should get all the nutrients they need.
If you’re ever uncertain whether your little one is getting everything their bodies need, speak to a registered nutritionist, dietitian or another healthcare professional who can offer personalised advice.
If you want to learn more about this exciting time in your little one’s life, check out our blog full of food and weaning advice!