Why protein is essential for babies

Baby with spoon in mouth
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Dr Joanna explains why the right level of protein is fundamental for your bub's first year.

The first year of your baby’s life is a pretty amazing period. Babies typically triple their birth weight and such fast growth calls for essential nutrients and energy.

Your baby’s body will be busy building new cells and his brain and nervous system are also developing – all vital growth to help him reach his full potential. The right level of protein is absolutely essential to support this journey.

For roughly the first six months of life, your baby gets all of the protein he needs from milk – be it breast or formula. But once you introduce solids, he will be drinking less milk, so the protein in food must replace the lost protein from milk. This is easy to do – there is no need to count grams of protein or weigh food. You’ll find the right balance simply by including the right food choices at each meal.

How much protein does a 7-12-month-old need?

An adequate intake of protein for a 7-12 month-old is considered to be around 14g. He will still be consuming around 600ml of milk and this provides almost half of his required protein. So, really, we’re only talking about 7-8g of additional protein. If you consider that half a slice of cheese has 2.5g, and a 30g spoonful of bolognaise has 3.5g, you can see it is not difficult to meet demands.

What is important is that you are not simply feeding him pureed veggies and fruit, mashed potato or cereal-based foods without considering a better protein source. Do remember, however, that bread, oats, quinoa and especially legumes are all good sources of plant protein, so not all protein must come from animal foods.

However one word of warning – while high-protein diets are currently in vogue for adult weight control, it’s absolutely essential that you realise these are not appropriate for infants and children. Babies need a balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat, from nutrient-rich foods, to develop at the right pace for optimal growth.

To reassure you about how much your baby should be eating, these are the Australian Guidelines for a baby aged 7-12 months (bear in mind it may take you a couple of months after introducing solids to reach these levels):

Food

Serve Size

Serves a day

Veggies & legumes (beans & lentils)

20g

1.5-2

Fruit

20g

0.5

Grain food

1 slice bread or ½ cup cooked pasta or rice

 

1.5

 

 

Infant cereal (dried)

20g dried infant cereal eg baby rice

1

Lean meats, poultry, fish, tofu, eggs

30g

1

Breast milk or formula

 

600ml

 

1

 

Yoghurt, cheese or alternatives

20ml yoghurt or 10g cheese

0.5

 
So you can see, they only require a small amount of meat, fish, eggs or tofu, and the remainder of their protein will be supplied by other foods.

By ensuring you provide foods from all of the foods groups above on most days, you can rest assured your baby is being nourished and receiving all the nutrients he needs.
 
Is your little one a vegetarian? We have a helpful article from Nutrition Australia you might find helpful: What to feed your vegetarian baby.

Dr Joanna McMillan

The information on this site does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon in making, or refraining from making, any decision. The information on this site should not replace the expertise of qualified professionals, and if you have any concerns, you should always consult a qualified professional.

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