Normative body composition during the first 2 y of life was derived from a prospective study of 76 children. We present 1) fat free mass (FFM) and its components, and fat mass (FM), 2) incremental growth rates partitioned into chemical components, and 3) age-specific and gender-specific constants for converting chemical and physical components into FFM for children during the first 2 y of life. A multicomponent model based on measurements of total body water (TBW), total body potassium (TBK) and bone mineral content (BMC) was used to estimate FFM and FM at 0.5, 3, 6, 9, 12, 18, and 24 mo of age. TBW was determined by deuterium dilution, TBK by whole body counting, and BMC by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. FFM was higher in boys than girls between 0.5-18 mo of age (p < or = 0.05). Percent FM increased on average from 13 to 31% between 0.5 and 3-6 mo, and then gradually declined. Percent FM was significantly higher in girls than in boys at 6 and 9 mo of age (p < or = 0.02). The components of FFM on a percentage basis changed with age (p = 0.001), but not gender. The protein content of FFM increased gradually with age, while TBW declined (p = 0.001). As a percentage of FFM, osseous mineral increased from 2.0 to 3.4% in boys and from 2.1 to 3.3% in girls between 0.5 and 24 mo (p = 0.001). Density and potassium content of FFM increased gradually with age (p = 0.001). These normative body composition data provide an updated reference upon which to assess normal growth and nutritional status of pediatric populations representative of mixed feeding groups during the first 2 y of life.