The Link Between Good Nutrition & Development in Infants

By Carly Seifert
Infants need adequate amounts of nutrition to promote healthy development.

Proper and adequate nutrition is vital for developing infants -- and the effects of malnutrition on little ones can be severe and irreversible, according to the World Bank. Fortunately, breast milk or formula contains most of the nutrients that infants need during the first year of their lives -- ensuring healthy infant development.

Water

Water plays an essential part of infant development by regulating body temperature, transporting nutrients and waste and maintaining normal kidney function, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. During the first year of life, breastfeeding or formula will fulfill an infants' need for water. Even in hot weather, supplemental water is not necessary when a baby takes in sufficient amounts of breast milk or formula, with about 4 to 8 ounces of water a day recommended for infants who are being introduced to protein-rich or salty foods, such as meats and egg yolks.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is an integral part of infants' developing bones and teeth and ensures healthy nerves and muscles. Deficiencies in calcium are linked with increased blood lead levels. Infants will receive enough calcium by consuming breast milk or infant formula, and infants age 9 months and older can also receive calcium from dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese or green and leafy vegetables. Vitamin D affects the absorption of calcium. If mothers are breastfeeding their babies, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mother provide their babies with supplemental vitamin D. In addition to boosting immunity, vitamin D also prevents bone-softening diseases such as rickets.

Iron

Iron is another essential mineral needed for developing infants in order to provide healthy growth, proper formation of blood cells and prevent anemia -- which can cause long-term cognitive and behavioral developmental delays. A full-term infant is likely born with adequate iron stores, which begin to deplete around 4 months of age. As breast milk contains little iron, breastfed babies should receive a supplement of 1 mg of oral iron daily, states the American Academy of Pediatrics. Formula is fortified with iron, and formula-fed infants will receive adequate iron, without any additional supplementation.

Lipids

The USDA defines lipids as substances that contain fats, oils and cholesterol. These fatty substances are a major source of energy in infants and also protect their bodies' organs, promote brain, skin, and eye development and help increase their resistance to infection and disease. Because infants grow at such a fast rate, their diet should be energy-dense to promote healthy development, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, no limitations of fat and cholesterol are recommended for children under the age of 2 years. Around 50 percent of the energy substances consumed in breast milk or formula are comprised of fat, making them an important source of lipids during infancy.

About the Author

Carly Seifert has been a piano instructor since 2001. She has also covered adoption and introducing children to the arts for "Montana Parent Magazine." Seifert graduated from University of California, Irvine with a Bachelor of Arts in drama.