A few of these habits began when your toddler was a newborn (such as tummy time and frequent night feedings) and may not be part of your everyday routine now. Other habits may need some practice with your 18-24 month old. And if you are thinking about (or expecting) another baby, all these healthy habits may serve as a good review.
1. Continue Breastfeeding your child up to age of two or beyond
You’ve learned: Breastmilk is your baby’s first superfood. It is complete nutrition that changes to match her growth and development, providing all the energy and nutrients she needs for the first six months of life. According to the World Health Organization, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is the best way to feed your baby and should continue, alongside complementary food, up to the age of two or beyond.
Keep it up: As well as being a special bonding time for you and your child, continued breastfeeding promotes healthy growth. It protects against common childhood illnesses and may bring longer-term health benefits, such as reducing the risk of your toddler becoming overweight when she gets older. There's no reason to stop breastfeeding if it’s still working for you both—continue reaping the benefits for as long as it feels right.
2. Make physical activity part of her daily routine
You’ve learned: Teaching your baby to be physically active starts almost as soon as she’s born! Begin with a few minutes of “tummy time”—when she lies on her stomach and lifts her head—and build up to a total of one hour a day (broken into several small segments) by the time she’s two months old. Some countries have guidelines on how much activity babies and toddlers should be doing. By six months, it’s at least 90 minutes of daily activity, and might include sitting games that strengthen her core, such as pat-a-cake, or exercises that work her leg muscles, like bouncing her on your knees. Between the ages of one and two, it’s up to three hours a day. This should include structured play, led by an adult, and unstructured play, when your little one can play freely.
Keep it up: Encouraging your toddler to engage in physical activity every day helps build her strength and motor skills, as well as kickstarting healthy habits that may last a lifetime.
3. Help her to get enough sleep
You’ve learned: Night wakings are normal for newborn babies as they have tiny tummies and need to feed frequently. Guidelines for newborns recommend a total of 14-17 hours’ sleep (including naps) each day. By three months of age, many babies could be sleeping for five hours at a time. For four- to 11-month-olds, the advice is 12-15 hours’ total sleep a day, and by their “half birthday”, some babies may be able to sleep through the night. Putting her to bed when she’s drowsy, but still awake, can help her learn how to fall asleep by herself when she’s a baby.
Keep it up: Adequate sleep is needed for healthy growth and development. Guidelines recommend that toddlers aged between one and two get 11-14 hours’ total sleep each day. Encouraging “good sleep habits”, such as regular, early bedtimes, and a consistent bedtime routine—for example, bath, pajamas, teeth, and story—when she is a toddler, may lead to better sleep habits through childhood.
4. Introduce the right foods at the right time
You’ve learned: At around six months old, your baby will need some additional nutrients, on top of those provided by breast milk. Giving her a taste of different vegetables and fruits during the first few weeks of introducing solid foods, and lumpy textures before nine or 10 months, means she’s more likely to accept them in the future.
Keep it up: Serving a variety of nutritious foods, flavors, and textures can help shape your little one’s tastes when she’s older. As she gradually moves on to the same family foods as you, it’s an opportunity for the whole family to enjoy an adventure in healthy eating together.
5. Prepare food safely
You’ve learned: Your baby has a less developed immune system than you, so is more likely to be affected by chemicals and bacteria. That’s why it’s important to take extra care when preparing, storing, and heating food for your little one. If you’re buying from a store, read the ingredients list to make sure the food is appropriate for your baby’s age and remember to check the “use by” date.
Keep it up: Following basic hygiene rules, such as washing your hands before preparing food and after touching raw meat, will set a good example to your toddler as she grows up and help to protect the whole family from illness. Continue to check food labels to ensure the food you offer is as nutritious as possible.
6. Don’t forget water
You’ve learned: When your baby reaches six to eight months old, you can start to introduce a cup. Offer a small cup of water at meals and snack times to help her learn how to drink from a cup. Remember to offer refreshing water during and after play sessions as your toddler gets more active.
Keep it up: There’s no room in your little one’s tummy for sugary drinks—these increase her risk of tooth decay and becoming overweight when she’s older. Learning to like water now may make her more inclined to prefer it as a drink of choice in the future. Be a good role model and drink water at every meal and she’ll likely do the same.
7. Encourage healthy snacking
You’ve learned: Your baby’s tummy is small, so she needs to eat more often than you. Frequent offerings is the key—typically three main meals and two snacks or “mini meals” a day. As she gets close to two years old, three meals and one snack may be adequate. There is no room on the menu for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. Each mouthful matters, so rethink snacks as healthy essentials.
Keep it up: When your toddler becomes a pre-schooler, she’s still likely to be super active and have lots of energy! Continue to treat “mini meals” as an opportunity to provide her with all the nutrients she needs as she gets older. Remember to offer a variety of healthy foods from all the five groups—fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grains, and dairy—for a balanced diet.
8. Practice responsive feeding
You’ve learned: Responsive feeding is as much about how you offer food as what you offer. It means offering a variety of healthy foods at regular meal and snack times, and letting your baby decide what and how much of these foods she wants to eat. Look out for signs that she’s hungry or full—for example, grabbing or turning her head away as a weaning child, and words and gestures as a toddler. Mealtimes should be fun, sociable occasions for all the family, without pressure or over-encouragement.
Keep it up: As your toddler gets better at communicating, she’ll be able to tell you when she’s had enough or wants more food. Respecting her hunger and fullness cues is essential in establishing healthy eating habits for life.
9. Watch out for any gaps or excesses in nutrition
You’ve learned: As your toddler is eating more food, and drinking less milk compared to when she was a baby, she may miss out on key nutrients. Every bite counts, especially when she’s young, so make sure each meal you offer is packed full of nutritional goodness.
Keep it up: By providing a healthy, balanced diet for your toddler now, you are helping to lay the foundations for her future eating habits. As a minimum, this means offering foods from each of the food groups, including fruits and vegetables, and foods with healthy fats, iron, and vitamin D, as well as foods without added salt and sugar.
10. Ensure your own diet is rich in nutrients
You’ve learned: In just five days of breastfeeding, you can burn about the same number of calories as it takes to run a marathon! That’s why it’s important to eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, with about 400 additional calories than you’d normally consume. As you start complementary feeding with your baby and then start to introduce family foods to your toddler, make sure you include foods from all five food groups— fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grains, and dairy—in your own diet, and drink plenty of water. Getting into the habit of eating healthily will make you a positive role model and encourage your little one to do the same.
Keep it up: Thinking about a second baby? A nutrient-rich diet is equally important during pregnancy. As well as the key vitamins and minerals you get from food, you might want to take a supplement providing 400mcg of folic acid. This helps reduce the risk of serious birth defects and is necessary early on in pregnancy—before you might know you’ve conceived.
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