Nutrition, growth, and complementary feeding of the breastfed infant

Pediatr Clin North Am. 2001 Feb;48(1):87-104. doi: 10.1016/s0031-3955(05)70287-x.


Although additional research is needed on many of the issues discussed herein, the following conclusions are well substantiated by the evidence available to date: Breast milk alone can meet nutrient needs during the first 6 months, with the possible exception of vitamin D in certain populations and iron in infants of relatively low birth weight. Complementary foods offered before 6 months of age tend to displace breast milk and do not confer any growth advantage over exclusive breastfeeding. Breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients well beyond the first year of life, especially protein, fat, and most vitamins. Breastfed infants tend to gain less weight and usually are leaner than are formula-fed infants in the second half of infancy. This difference does not seem to be the result of nutritional deficits but rather infant self-regulation of energy intake. New growth charts based on infants breastfed throughout the first year of life are being developed by WHO. The nutrients most likely to be limiting in the diets of breastfed infants are minerals, such as iron, zinc, and calcium. Using the following guidelines can help to ensure that the nutrient needs of the breastfed child are met: Continue to breastfeed as often as the infant desires. Aim for a variety of complementary foods, with fruits, vegetables, and animal products (e.g., meat, fish, poultry, or egg) offered daily. Iron-fortified cereals and meats can provide adequate iron. Calcium can be obtained from cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products (although fresh cow's milk is not recommended before 12 mo). Avoid giving too much juice. Be alert to any signs that the child's appetite, growth, or development is impaired. When in doubt, a balanced vitamin-mineral supplement is advisable. Make mealtimes enjoyable.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Availability
  • Body Height
  • Body Weight
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Child Development
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Food*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Nutritional Requirements


  • Dietary Proteins