Early Childhood Nutrition
After birth, brain growth depends critically on the quality of a child’s nutrition. Breast milk offers the best mix of nutrients for promoting brain growth, provided that breast-fed infants receive some form of iron supplementation beginning around six months of age. (Most infant cereals are fortified with iron, and breast-fed babies require this supplementation at six months whether or not their mothers are iron-deficient.) Iron deficiency has been clearly linked to cognitive deficits in young children. Iron is critical for maintaining an adequate number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, which in turn are necessary to fuel brain growth. Bottle-fed babies should receive formula that contains iron.
Because of the rapid pace of myelination in early life, children need a high level of fat in their diets–some 50 percent of their total calories–until about two years of age. Babies should receive most of this fat from breast milk or formula in the first year of life, and breast milk remains an excellent source of liquid nutrition into the toddler years. However, whole cow’s milk can be introduced after the first birthday and provides an excellent source of both fat and protein for toddlers in the second year. After two years of age, children should begin transitioning to a more heart-healthy level of dietary fat (no more than 30 percent of total calories), including lower-fat cow’s milk (1 or 2%).