Complementary feeding of infants and young children 6 to 23 months of age

Abstract

Complementary feeding, when foods are introduced to complement a milk-based diet, generally occurs between 6 and 23 months of age. It is a critical period for both physical and cognitive development. During this period, the growth rate of the brain is one of the fastest during the life span and, consequently, the timing, dose, and duration of exposure to specific nutrients can result in both positive and negative effects. Complementary feeding is more than ensuring an adequate intake of nutrients; it also is about avoiding excess intakes of calories, salt, sugars, and unhealthy fats. Meals are cultural and social events where young children observe, imitate, learn about foods to like or dislike, and form lifelong eating habits and practices. Meals are also when a child learns to touch foods and connect food tastes to how foods look and feel. Ideally, complementary feeding is responsive and promotes child autonomy, but it can also be used to manage behavior problems or overly indulge a child, resulting in long-term consequences for nutrition and health. Therefore, in addition to what a child is fed, attention to how a child is fed is also important. In this review, 12 topics relevant for updating global guidance on complementary feeding were identified: age of introduction of complementary foods; continued breastfeeding; responsive feeding; safe preparation and storage of complementary foods; food textures, flavors, and acceptance; energy and meal and snack frequency; fats, protein, and carbohydrates; dietary diversity; milks other than breast milk; fluid needs; unhealthy foods and beverages; and use of vitamin and mineral supplements or supplementary foods.