Nutrition is vital to your baby's development, especially during the first year of life. So what and how should babies be fed during that crucial newborn period?

Health professionals emphasize the nutritional advantages of breast-feeding infants, especially for the first 6 to 12 months. Breast milk is tailor-made for a baby's digestive system and is rich in antibodies, which help to ward off bacteria and viruses. And over the course of a baby's development, the breast milk will alter its composition to suit the baby's nutritional needs.

Once the baby starts eating solid foods, at around 6 months, continue breast-feeding as well. Doctors believe babies' health will benefit greatly if they receive a mix of breast milk with solid foods in the period between 6 months and one year of age.

However, while breast milk is considered the best option for a baby's health, not all mothers can - or want to - feed their child in this way. The other option is iron-fortified formula.

But while formulas are aimed at mirroring breast milk in terms of composition and nutritional advantages for babies, they are not identical to breast milk. Should you choose a formula, be sure that it is fortified with iron and contains necessary vitamins and minerals. Check with your doctor to learn which formula is most appropriate for your baby.

Doctors generally recommend that you do not give cow's milk to infants 12 months old or younger. For babies, cow's milk is difficult to digest and does not provide enough nutrition.

Whether you're breast-feeding, using formula or a combination of both, it is recommended that babies be fed with either or both for the first 9 to 12 months of their lives.

Overall, if you can breast-feed, it's to your baby's advantage to do so.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team