Lesson 23: Nutrition for Mother and Baby

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A, (2000), 165–69


The purpose of this lesson is to help us know what pregnant and nursing women should eat and what mothers should feed to their babies.

Nutrition for Pregnant Women

  • Display visual 23-a, “Good nutrition is important for both mother and baby.”

A pregnant woman needs to be careful to eat foods that will help her and her new baby be healthy. She needs to make sure she gets enough servings from each of the five food groups every day. These five groups are (1) breads, cereals, and grains; (2) vegetables; (3) fruits; (4) milk, cheese, and yogurt; and (5) meat, poultry, fish, and nuts. Pregnant women should also make sure they drink plenty of water to avoid problems with dehydration. Women who choose their foods wisely usually have healthier, stronger babies than mothers who do not eat right.

  • Have the sisters name several foods from each group; then ask them to plan a meal for a pregnant woman. Be sure they include a variety of food from the five groups.

  • Why is proper nutrition important for the expectant mother?

“If the mother is not well nourished and is not taking into her body the nutrients that the baby needs in the proper amounts, the baby will not grow and develop as it should.

“Infant mortality rates, which record the number of babies that die in the first year of life, are high in many developing countries of the world. The high rates result from problems with sanitation and the spread of infection, and from problems with malnutrition. However, even in developed countries … inadequate nutrition among expectant mothers has contributed to excessive infant mortality rates. If a mother is poorly nourished during pregnancy, especially if she is very young, the chance is greater that her baby will be small and of low weight at birth. The risk of death shortly after birth is higher for a low-birth-weight baby. The nutrition of the mother-to-be is a very important factor that contributes to the health of her baby. She must eat the foods that will supply nutrients to build and protect her baby’s body” (1973–74 Relief Society Courses of Study [1973], 105).

Mother’s Milk Is Usually Best for Small Babies

Our Heavenly Father made the mother’s body so it could produce milk. This milk is made especially for human babies to drink. It is better for babies than milk from animals. The first fluid that comes from the mother’s breasts after a new baby is born is also important. It contains substances that help protect the baby from diseases for the first few months.

Sometimes for health reasons a mother cannot breast-feed her baby. Milk from cows or goats or prepared formulas can also be used, but the mother must take greater care to keep the milk sanitary. A mother should breast-feed her baby if she can. The mother’s diet influences how much milk she produces for the baby. A mother who eats enough good foods and drinks enough water can usually produce enough milk for her baby.

  • Why do some mothers not breast-feed their babies? Why is the fluid that comes before milk good for babies? Besides nutrition and disease prevention for the baby, what are some other advantages of breast-feeding?

Bottle Feeding

If a mother cannot breast-feed her baby, she can give the baby another kind of milk. This usually means feeding the baby with a bottle (later a cup). Feeding the baby with a bottle requires these precautions:

  1. 1.

    Keep the bottle clean. If it falls on the ground, or if flies land on the nipple and leave germs, the baby will probably get sick. Wash the bottles and nipples with hot, soapy water, and rinse well.

  2. 2.

    Use clean water. When milk is mixed with impure water, the baby can get sick from germs in the water. If there is a chance that water is impure, always boil it for 20 minutes and let it cool before feeding it to the baby.

  3. 3.

    If the milk spoils, throw it away and use fresh milk.

  4. 4.

    Read the label on canned or prepared formulas, and use the right amount of water. Children become sick if their milk is not diluted enough or is diluted too much. Do not add too much water in order to make the milk last longer.

A story told by Dr. James O. Mason illustrates the importance of feeding babies milk that is not diluted too much:

A young father and mother invited Dr. Mason to their home to see their baby. When the mother unwrapped the six-week-old daughter, the doctor was shocked to see that the baby was very thin. He could even see the shape of her bones. The parents told him that the mother had been unable to nurse the baby because she had been very ill during the pregnancy. When the baby was born they had purchased a can of dried-milk formula, but they could not afford to buy another can when it was gone. The doctor asked, “What are you feeding the baby now?” They showed him a baby bottle filled with fluid that was nearly clear. The fluid was water mixed with a few drops of condensed milk from a tiny can. Dr. Mason gave money to the branch president for the family to use to buy milk for the baby. He also instructed the family how to prepare the milk. In spite of the doctor’s efforts, the baby later died. Much later the family learned that a local resource could have provided milk for their baby. (See “For the Health of the Saints,” in Speeches of the Year, 1974 [1975], 153–54.)

  • Optional demonstration: Show how to properly clean a bottle and prepare milk for a baby.

Bottle feeding requires extra care, but babies who are bottle-fed can be healthy. It is still better to give a baby mother’s milk, even if the baby may need to have a bottle sometimes too.

Other Foods for Babies

As babies grow older, they will not stay healthy if they have only milk. They also need other foods. It is hard to know how long mother’s milk will meet the baby’s needs; therefore, the baby should start eating other foods at about six months.

Babies need foods from the same five groups that grown people need. Canned baby food is one way to help babies get a variety of foods from the basic food groups. Where canned baby food is not available, baby food can easily be made from the same foods adults eat. These foods need to be kept very clean. They should be mashed or strained so a baby can eat them easily even before he or she has teeth.

Fruits covered by a peel are cleaner than other fruits. Ripe bananas, for example, are good food for babies. Other fruits should be carefully washed and peeled with a clean knife. All fruits should be held in clean hands.

Cooked vegetables, especially leafy vegetables, make excellent baby food. They can be easily chopped or mashed, making them easy for a baby to eat, and they contain vitamins that will help keep a baby healthy.

Cereals are also good baby food, because they contain carbohydrates. They are not adequate by themselves, however. Babies still need other foods such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, and milk to be healthy and grow properly.

Some people feed their babies broth. Broth is good because it is usually cooked and has no germs. But broth alone will not help a baby grow. Babies should also have other foods in order to get all the vitamins, minerals, protein, and carbohydrates they need.

Parents should introduce only one new food at a time to a baby’s diet. Sometimes a baby will be allergic to a particular kind of food. This may result in vomiting, congestion of lungs or nose, diarrhea, or a rash. By introducing one new food at a time, parents can learn which foods their baby might not be able to eat because of allergies.

  • What foods from each of the five groups could a baby eat? How should these foods be prepared?

  • Have the sisters plan a meal for a baby. Make sure they include a variety of foods from the basic food groups.

  • Optional demonstration: Show how to prepare two or three kinds of baby food.

Conclusion

We need to choose carefully the foods we eat. This is especially important for pregnant women and nursing mothers. We can also influence the health of our babies by what we give them to eat. Mother’s milk is the best milk to give to babies, but within a few months, babies need to eat foods from all five groups to grow strong and healthy.

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Review lesson 22 in this manual, “Nutrition for the Family.”

  2. 2.

    (Optional) Bring a baby bottle and milk formula to class to show the sisters how to clean the bottle and prepare milk for a baby.

  3. 3.

    (Optional) Bring some foods to class that are especially good for babies. If possible, bring equipment to show how to prepare the food.

  4. 4.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.