How can we make sure our baby is getting proper nutrition when we’re low on money?

by dr. Steven A. Abrams, American Academy of Pediatrics

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Q: How are we supposed to feed our baby when we are running out of money?

A: Due to the loss of jobs and business during the COVID-19 outbreak, many families are struggling to pay for groceries, including infant formula.

Food pantries and public support programs like WIC and SNAP are available, but they may not cover everything a family needs to stay healthy. Also, families suddenly in need may not qualify for some of these public support programs.

The AAP strongly believes that good nutrition is essential for a healthy future for infants and small children. Putting their needs first is critical and there are ways to make this more affordable.

If your child is under 12 months old, ask your pediatrician if they can get you a small supply urgently from the local formula representatives or a local charity. Some formula companies have patient assistance programs that your pediatrician can help you find. Your local WIC office may also be able to help.

If possible, buy the formula online or in the largest sizes available in stores, and watch the sale. Remember to only buy formulas from well-known distributors and pharmacies. Avoid formulas sold by individuals or on auction sites.

For most babies, it’s OK to switch between different milk-based formulas, including store brands, unless your baby uses a specific, highly hydrolyzed formula, such as Alimentum or Nutramigen. If you’re not sure, talk to your pediatrician.

Never dilute the formula! Always follow the instructions on the label or the instructions your pediatrician has given you. Watering down the formula is dangerous and can cause nutritional imbalances in your baby and lead to serious health problems.

You may be tempted to buy cheaper dairy alternatives, but whole cow’s milk and dairy alternatives are not recommended for infants under 12 months of age. It is best to stick to breast milk and/or infant formula for the first year of your baby, except in a short-term emergency. Food banks, local WIC offices, and other community resources can usually help with a food emergency. Please note that eligibility for public support programs such as WIC and SNAP is subject to change, so stay in touch with these agencies to ensure you can participate.

Infant formula is not necessary for infants older than 12 months. Cow’s milk or fortified soy milk products are less expensive than formula, meet the needs of toddlers for milk products and provide sufficient minerals and proteins.

You can also make your own food for your baby to save money. However, the AAP strongly advises against homemade formula. While homemade formula recipes circulating on the internet may seem healthy and cheaper, they may not be safe and may not meet your baby’s nutritional needs.

You can make your own baby food if you start your baby on solids, at about 6 months of age. You don’t have to rely on ready-made baby food, which is often more expensive. If you make your own baby food, make sure you get enough protein and iron, two important nutrients for your child’s growth. Most beans are high in protein and cheaper than many other protein sources. Dark green leafy vegetables are a great source of iron.

It is good to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your baby’s diet, and you will find that many products are reasonably priced if you shop around. Buy frozen vegetables, look for specials, and avoid pre-cut vegetables, which are more expensive than whole ones. Shop for seasonal products and consider subscribing to a box of imperfect fruits and vegetables, often offered at a discounted price.

You can also freeze food that you make in a blender or food processor for your baby to keep for longer. Add some chicken or vegetable stock to stretch a meal.

Be careful not to give honey to a baby under the age of 1 and avoid foods that pose a choking hazard, such as nuts and raw carrots.

Always remember that you are not alone. Your pediatrician cares about your child’s health and is available to offer suggestions and support.

Ask the Pediatrician: Is It Okay to Make Baby Food at Home?

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