A simple key to your baby’s healthiest mental development in the first year.
If you thought the changes in your baby from birth to 6 months were impressive, be prepared for an avalanche of advancement between 7 months and his first birthday. By then, he may even be toddling about! He’ll also be joining you at the dinner table. As you introduce your little one to the joys of solid food, you can provide him with important nutrients to fuel this incredible transformation.
Your baby’s eyesight is almost completely developed now, allowing him to track objects and recognize you from across a room. He also understands that you still exist when you exit that room. This concept of object permanence means that he may cry out for you when you leave him and that he’ll eagerly wait until you reveal your face in a game of peekaboo. As he makes these cognitive leaps, he’s becoming a little scientist—tinkering with the objects around him, observing you closely, and copying what you do.
Those experiments are helping to build connectivity in his high-functioning brain. A full range of nutrients—including protein, iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, folate, vitamin A, choline, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (such as DHA and ARA)—continue to be important to support that development. What’s new at 6 months is that he has reached an age when it’s possible to develop imbalances in some of these nutrients.
Between 4 and 6 months, your baby may have depleted the iron stores he was born with. If you’re feeding your baby formula, it should offer iron. For breast-fed babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends iron supplementation from iron-enriched foods. (Be aware, though, that because too much iron can be harmful to young children, even fatal, it’s important to consult your pediatrician before administering a supplement to your baby.) As you begin to introduce solid foods into your baby’s diet, iron-fortified infant cereal (a common first food) can help keep iron at a healthy level. Once his eating skills improve sufficiently, you can offer bite-size pieces of foods like eggs and meat, which pack a double punch of both protein and iron, or baby food sources.
During the next five months, your baby will make incredible—and possibly actual— strides. From sitting he will progress to rolling forward and backward, scooting, crawling (although some babies skip crawling altogether), and perhaps even standing and taking a few steps. (It’s also normal for children to hold off on walking till several months after they turn 1. Your baby’s fine motor skills are also improving. He may soon be able to use his pincer grasp to pick up small objects between his thumb and index finger. That will come in handy as he tries out finger foods and attempts to drink from a cup.
Breast milk or formula (or a combination of the two) is still your baby’s main source of nourishment and will give him energy—particularly from carbohydrates and lactose—for all this exploration. High-quality protein will help him build strong muscles and support his ever-evolving brain.
One nutrient your breast milk cannot adequately provide is bone-building vitamin D. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breast-feeding (or partially breast-feeding) babies receive 400 IUs of vitamin D beginning within the first month of life via a supplement.
Your baby may not be using recognizable words just yet, but he does understand much of what you say to him, due to the rapid increase of connectivity in the part of his brain responsible for language comprehension. Those connections, like all of your baby’s brain development, depend upon myelin, a dense substance that protects those connections and enables signals to pass between them quickly.
Dietary fat is central to the production of myelin. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is an important nutrient for the growing cortex. That’s why your baby’s diet should still be about 50 percent fat, a goal easily met with breast milk or formula. Research suggests that a longer duration of breast-feeding in the first year of life is associated with greater mental development at 14 months. And if you’re formula-feeding, don’t automatically rush to cow’s milk when your baby turns 1. Toddler milk drinks are designed to provide a balance of fats—such as DHA.
Your baby is beginning to understand that his inner circle of family and caregivers is special to him and may react with fear or concern when introduced to someone new—the beginning of stranger anxiety. His connection to you, on the other hand, is continuing to deepen.
Satisfying his hunger (while providing the nutrition he needs) continues to be an excellent way to show him that you (and, by extension, others) can be trusted to meet his needs. That faith in you will foster a strong attachment and greater security in the world at large (the foundation of a healthy social life). Now that you are introducing solids, mealtimes are an opportunity to teach him the give and take of dialogue that will one day become a full-fledged dinner-table conversation.