If you've ever debated what to feed your baby, stay tuned: The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working on its first-ever dietary guidelines for babies from 0 to 2 years old. (Previous guidelines only offered advice beginning at age 2.) A government panel of experts is reviewing nutrition research and writing the new guidelines, which are expected in the next year or so.
People who specialize in infant nutrition say the foods that babies eat in their first 2 years set the stage for future health. "It's a window identified by science as a critical time period, when the absence of good nutrition could have a significant and irreversible impact on a child's health, future well-being, and brain development," says Lucy Sullivan, founder and executive director of 1,000 Days, an advocacy organization focused on nutrition for pregnant women and babies in the time between conception and Baby's second birthday. Sullivan hopes the new guidelines give parents clarity about what and how to feed babies. "There is, unfortunately, a lot of confusion out there," she says.
Here's some of the advice she would like to see in those guidelines.
A boost for breastfeeding. Sullivan hopes the new guidelines follow the lead of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, which encourage moms to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months and to continue until the first birthday while introducing solid foods. Moms and babies can continue beyond 12 months if it works for both.
Among its merits, "breast milk has unparalleled brain-building benefits," Sullivan says, in part because it contains beneficial fats known as long-chain polyunsaturated fats.
A call for variety at 6 months. Sullivan expects the guidelines to address the process of introducing solid foods at 6 months. Although many families start with rice cereal, that should be just one of the first foods.
A ban on fruit juice in the first year. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently urged parents to skip fruit juice before Baby's first birthday, and Sullivan expects the dietary guidelines to echo that rule. "Fruit juice tends to be high in sugar, and it replaces more nutrient-dense food," she says.