Infant Nutrition Chapter 1


Infant Nutrition (VIDEO)

The requirements of infant nutrition during infancy are greater than at any other time in life. In physiological terms, babies are the most demanding people on earth.
Making sure that babies get the best possible diet, these critical early years can have lifelong benefits. Researchers are finding that proper infant nutrition not only supports the foundation of healthy baby development in the first few months of life; it also sets the stage for better health during toddler development and even later. The Infant Nutrition Health Center covers the building blocks of an infant’s development from the contents of the necessary nutrients, the absorption of food, and how these nutrients impact each particular area of growth.

Related Health Centers:

Infant Nutrition Health Center, Mother-Baby Bond Health Center, Mother’s Milk Health Center, Monthly Infant Development Calendar Health Center,Weekly Pregnancy Calendar Health Center

Fueling Growth Development

Breast milk is a marvel. It is uniquely adapted to the needs of the newborn and is a complete source of infant nutrition to aid the development and the biological independence of a growing baby. Babies have immature digestive systems, and at the same time an infant’s nutritional requirements are at their highest, digestion and absorption of food is limited by this immaturity. "Breast milk has been called a transitional fluid," explains Tom Brenna, professor of human nutrition at Cornell University. "It transitions us nutritionally from being a fetus and being nourished from placental transfer, to solid foods." Human breast milk has to meet extraordinary biological demands from a developing baby. Dietary nutrients must supply the building blocks for growth and development as well as provide energy for cell division, tissue growth, and motor and neural activities. Breast milk builds babies, fueling growth and development.

Precisely what breast milk is made of is a puzzle that researchers have worked for more than a century to solve. Milk is an extraordinarily complex fluid, rich in nutrients and a wide range of minerals, vitamins, hormones, and growth factors, as well as enzymes with specific functions in the infant's digestive system. In a very real sense, breast milk is a living fluid because it also contains immune cells from the mother.

Related Health Centers:

Infant Nutrition Health Center, Mother-Baby Bond Health Center, Mother’s Milk Health Center, Monthly Infant Development Calendar Health Center,Weekly Pregnancy Calendar Health Center


Milk Enters the Stomach

During fetal development, all nutrients for growth are supplied by the placenta, which also removes wastes from amniotic sac. At birth that changes in one fell swoop, when the newborn digestive and excretory systems must take over. The baby’s gastrointestinal tract processes nutrients after birth, whether that is breast milk or formula. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract must therefore serve as a protective boundary against a wide variety of environmental microbes and other contaminants. It is a very dynamic but vulnerable surface. A baby's stomach capacity is extremely small, which is why infants require frequent feeding to supply adequate amounts of nutrients for growth and development.

An infant's digestive system, besides having a very limited capacity, is also immature. The infant's pancreas is not yet up to speed, which means that certain digestive enzymes are at much lower levels than they are in older children or adults. The infant compensates by relying on nonpancreatic enzymes such as those found in breast milk as well as in the baby's own salivary secretions. Another difference is that the esophageal valve, which is the opening at the top of the stomach, is not fully developed. That's why it is common for babies to have problems with spitting up.


Although infants can digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates at birth, their ability to do so improves as they develop and the GI tract lining matures while levels of digestive enzymes and stomach acids increase. Meanwhile, the limitations of their immature digestive and renal systems can put them at risk for dehydration, mal-absorption of nutrients, and electrolyte imbalance.

Milk Enters the Small Intestine

The small intestine is the site of most of the infant's absorption of nutrients. A newborn has lower levels of digestive enzyme activity than does an older child or adult, but the newborn is able to compensate for this shortfall by using other enzymatic pathways. This ensures that he or she is able to obtain all of the nutritional components necessary for healthy growth and development.

Some Key Nutrients: The Importance of Fat, DHA and ARA

There are many factors that play important roles in infant nutrition and neurological development. Vitamins and minerals, such as iron and iodine, for example, are essential. One of the most exciting discoveries in the past generation of research involves the role of fatty acids, such as DHA, which are the building blocks of fats and oils found in nature. About 50% of the calories in breast milk come from fat. The function of lipids is to provide energy; serve as insulation to reduce body heat loss and protect the infant from injury; facilitate the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; and provide fatty acids that are critical for normal brain and eye development, healthy skin and hair, and resistance to infection and disease.

Some Key Nutrients: Protein

Proteins are required for the building, maintenance, and repair of tissues throughout the infant's body. They are also necessary as a source of building blocks for the synthesis of digestive enzymes, regulatory hormones, growth factors, and important components of the immune system such as antibodies.

Some Key Nutrients: Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are important because they supply food energy for growth, body functions, and activity, as well as facilitate the efficient use of protein and fat in the diet. Carbohydrates are also building blocks for some essential body compounds.

Some Key Nutrients: Vitamins and Minerals

Is it possible to identify single nutrients that are responsible for the health and function of a specific organ, a vitamin that determines good hearing, healthy joints, or efficient liver function? Not exactly. While researchers have indeed identified many different nutrients that play key roles in specific systems and physiological pathways, in nearly all cases, it is the interaction of many different nutrients that determine healthy growth and development.

Good Nutrition Builds Healthy Babies

If you think about the conversations that parents have when they are expecting a baby, they are unanimous in saying that they want healthy, happy babies; that they want their babies to grow and experience the world and to meet each of the important developmental milestones along the way. Good nutrition is a critically important part of that process. It is the cornerstone that supports the foundation of healthy infant growth and development. And beyond.

Related Health Centers:


Infant Nutrition Health Center, Mother-Baby Bond Health Center, Mother’s Milk Health Center, Monthly Infant Development Calendar Health Center,Weekly Pregnancy Calendar Health Center


The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.