Feeding and Nutrition of Newborn Babies

Baby at breast

It is universally accepted that human breast milk is the best source of nutrition for newborn babies and infants. Breastfeeding also has many non-nutritive benefits that lead to the best health and development of the baby. According to the World Health Organization, “exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter, infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.”

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of providing human milk to newborn babies and young infants, which include better tolerance of feeding, reduced gastrointestinal disease, and improved intelligence. In developing countries, breastfeeding results in lower infant mortality.

There are also very important health benefits for the mother as well. Early establishment of breastfeeding after delivery makes the uterus contract back to its original size faster. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis.  

Normal, healthy newborn babies have enough energy stores in their bodies to keep them going for the first few days of life. The small amounts of “milk” they receive from their mothers in these early days, called colostrum, offers high levels of   protective immunological benefits and sugars for energy and prepare the baby for the larger volume of milk that comes in by the third or fourth day of life.  

Newborn babies and young infants need specific amounts of energy, protein, carbohydrates, fat, electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins. These are all provided in the right balance by your breast milk, with the added benefit of important antibodies to help your baby fight infections during the first few months of life. Human breast milk is designed for human babies, and all substitute feeding preparations contain fewer ingredients than have been identified in human milk. Of the over 200 identified elements of human milk that interact in this complex fluid, about 30 can be artificially produced in infant formula.

Should you have difficulties feeding your baby at the breast, despite assistance by a breastfeeding specialist, you can purchase or rent hospital-approved breast pumps to express your breast milk and give it to your baby by bottle.

If you cannot breastfeed or provide breast milk for your baby, commercially manufactured formula milks are available for feeding babies.

Debbie Stone, RN, IBCLC, RLC

Joyce Touw, RScN, PNC(C), RN, IBCLC, RLC

Andrew James, MBChB, FRACP, FRCPC