Nutrition tips for babies and toddlers

Children need to receive adequate nutrition in the “first 1000 days” of life. Babies grow and develop to their best potential if they drink their mother’s breast milk and after 6 months mothers continue breastfeeding and start to introduce a healthy diet of pureed food.

Healthy eating tips at each stage of your child’s development

Source: Road to Health Booklet supplied by the Department of Health

Birth to 6 months
  • Adequate nutrition in early childhood begins with exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child’s life. Only a third (32%) of South Africa’s infants under six months are exclusively breastfed.
  • Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby. It is the ideal food for your baby to grow, develop and be healthy. l Give your baby ONLY breast milk for the first six months of life. Do not give porridge, water or any other liquids. Baby’s tummy (intestine/gut) is not yet ready for any other foods, water or other liquids before 6 months. Do not give any other home or traditional medicines or remedies. Only give your baby medicines they receive from the clinic or hospital
  • Breastmilk contains enough water to quench your baby’s thirst during the fi rst 6 months of life, even in hot weather.
  • Breastfeed as often as your baby wants, both day and night
  • Breastfeed your baby at least 8 times in 24 hours. The more your baby feeds the more milk you will produce. Almost all mothers will produce enough milk for their baby not to need anything else for the first six months
  • You can express breastmilk for other carers to give to your baby while you are away. They should use a clean cup, rather than a bottle. Store expressed breastmilk in a clean glass or plastic cup with a lid. Defrost in a fridge or at room temperature over 12 hours or by standing in water. Do not boil or microwave.
  • If you are HIV-positive, remember to always take your HIV or antiretroviral treatment. This makes breastfeeding safe.
  • Breastfeeding mothers should eat healthy food. They must not drink alcohol, smoke or take other harmful drugs.
6-8 months
  • Continue breastfeeding on demand. Breastfeed first, then give other foods. Your baby needs iron-rich foods (dried beans, egg, minced meat, chicken or chicken livers, ground mopane worms). These foods must be cooked and mashed to make them soft and easy for your baby to swallow.

Also, give your baby:

  • Starches (such as fortified maize meal porridge, mashed sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes)
  • Mashed, cooked vegetables (such as pumpkin, butternut, carrots)
  • Soft fruit without pips (such as avocado, bananas, paw-paw, cooked apples) Give your baby clean and safe water to drink from a cup, regularly
  • From the age of 6 months, give your baby clean, safe-to-drink water from a cup during the day. Boil the water and cool before you give it to your child.

How much: Start with 1 – 2 teaspoons, twice a day. Gradually increase the amount and frequency of feeds.

9-11 months:
  • Continue breastfeeding on demand. Breastfeed first, then give other foods.

  • Iron rich foods are very important for your baby’s growth l Increase the amount and variety (different kinds) of foods.


  • Food doesn’t need to be smooth as in the past months.
  • Give your child small pieces of foods they can hold (bananas, bread, cooked carrots)
  • Avoid small hard foods that may cause choking like peanuts.
  • Give your baby safe water to drink from a cup, regularly
  • About a ¼ cup, then increase to half a cup by 12 months
  • 5 small meals a day
12 months up to 5 years:
  • Continue breastfeeding as often as your child wants up to 2 years and beyond.
  • Give food before breastmilk.
  • Give a variety (different kinds) of foods (iron rich foods, starches, vegetables, fruits)
  • Give foods rich in vitamin A (liver, spinach, pumpkin, yellow sweet potatoes, mango, paw-paw, full cream milk, maas)
  • Give Vitamin C rich foods (oranges, naartjies, guavas, tomatoes)
  • Cut up foods in small pieces so that your child can eat on their own
  • Stay next to your child and encourage them to eat
  • If not breastfeeding, you can start giving pasteurized full cream cow’s milk/maas or yoghurt.
  • Follow up formula is not necessary
  • Give your child clean, safe water to drink from a cup, during the day
  • 5 small meals a day (A child has a small stomach, so they will not eat enough to last many hours)


  • Always stay next to your child when they are eating.
  • Keep food and cooking utensils very clean to prevent diarrhoea.
  • Always wash your hands and your child’s hands with soap and water before preparing food, before eating, and after using the toilet and changing nappies. l It’s not necessary to buy baby food or baby cereals. Homemade foods are good.
  • Avoid giving your child unhealthy foods like chips, sweets, sugar and fi zzy drinks.

Child nutrition in South Africa

Source: South African Early Childhood Review 2019

In Section 28 (1) (c) of the South African Constitution, it states that every child has the “right to basic nutrition and basic health care services”. However, it is unfortunate that there is not enough money in many low income households to cover even the basic nutritional needs of young children.

This poses a major biological and health risk for children; negatively impacting their brain development. Children who are malnourished during this period do not grow adequately, either physically or mentally. Their brains are smaller than normal and this explains why children who are malnourished suffer lasting behavioural and cognitive deficits, including slower language and fine motor development, lower IQ, and poorer school performance.

Children that have access to a healthy diet are more likely to have better educational outcomes than children that are malnourished.

It is essential for mothers with children under two years of age to contact their local clinics for guidance and support from health practitioners about adequate nutrition plans for themselves and their babies to avoid stunting in the first 1000 days.

Eradicating malnutrition and stunting will require a multisectoral approach across key government departments (Agriculture, Social Development, Health and Education) to inform, educate and support lower income households.

Source: South African Early Childhood Review 2019

On the flip side there are children that are overweight as a result of unhealthy eating habits. This has mainly been attributed to increased consumption of fast foods and processed foods that are  high in salt, sugar and fats, which young children are exposed to through household diets.

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