Feed my baby

The importance of essential fatty acids in baby’s diet

Did you know? Your baby’s brain is far from being fully-developed when they are born! And essential fatty acids (EFA)* play an important role in brain development. They are fats and must be provided in baby’s food.

EXPERT ADVICE: Omega 3 and Omega 6

EXPERT ADVICE: Omega 3 and Omega 6

There are 2 EFA families, Omega 3 (the most important for cerebral development) and Omega 6. In each family we make the distinction between precursor fatty acids, which are truly essential and must be provided in food as the human body is unable to produce them itself, and superior derived fatty acids (long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids or LC-PUFAs) which can be made by humans from the precursors, but in relatively small quantities. Due to the important role they play in cognitive, nervous and visual development in babies, it is a good idea to provide these LC-PUFAs in baby milk products in addition to the precursors. Precursor EFAs and LC-PUFAs are found in breast milk.

In addition to the role they play in cerebral development, the LC-PUFAS also play an important role in many other physiological functions.

Breast milk and infant milk: prime sources of Essential Fatty Acids

Whilst your baby is being breastfed or consuming the correct quantities of infant milk** for their age, their essential fatty acid requirements are met. In fact, breast milk provides precursor EFAs and LC-PUFAs in sufficient quantities to ensure that all of the baby’s nutritional needs are optimally met. Infant milks always contain the two precursor essential fatty acids to meet the nutritional needs of babies, and are sometimes supplemented with LC-PUFAs.

Note that cows milk contains very few omega 6 essential fatty acids and almost no omega 3 in comparison with breast milk and infant milks.

As soon as food diversification commences and up until the age of 3, milk (2nd stage milk, then growth milks towards 10/12 months, or breast milk), dairy products and cheeses must continue to be a major part of your child’s diet, particularly in terms of calcium provision, but also for provision of macronutrients (lipids, carbohydrates and proteins) and other micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

It is a critical period for your child’s future health and diet plays a major role. A study into infants and young children in France indicated, however, that their dietary environment is very often imbalanced from a very early age, with an excess of energy and proteins, but insufficient fats and EFAs (Chouraqui et al., 2019).

In order to prevent fatty acid intake from progressively decreasing as the child consumes less breast milk or infant milk, make sure that at each meal you add a small quantity of fats to your baby’s meal (1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or occasionally a little knob of butter or creme fraiche).

EXPERT ADVICE: apart from in breast milk and infant milk, from which other sources is it possible to get these “good fats”?

EXPERT ADVICE: apart from in breast milk and infant milk, from which other sources is it possible to get these “good fats”?

  • Precursor EFAs omega 3 (ALA) and omega 6 (LA) are only found in vegetable oils. It is important to opt for oils that are rich in omega 3 without excessive omega 6, such as rapeseed oil. On the other hand, oils such as corn, peanut, grape seed and sunflower oils should be avoided due to their high omega 6 and low omega 3 content. Olive oil contains predominantly oleic acid and its omega 6 concentrations and omega 3 concentrations in particular are low and do not meet the EFA requirements of a child (Briend A, Legrand P, Bocquet A, Comité de nutrition SFP. Arch Pediatr. 2014 Apr;21(4):424-38).
  • The omega 3 LC-PUFAs are found primarily in oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, smoked trout) and in some seaweed. The omega 6 LC-PUFAs are also found in fish, and also in smaller quantities in meat and eggs.

Should I give my child fats?

The majority of children under the age of 3 do not have a sufficiently high intake of fats or their intake is not balanced, and is particularly low in alpha-linolenic acid, in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and in arachidonic acid (ARA).

In fact, significant fat intake is required during the first years of life to provide your child with all the energy needed for good growth and the development of their nervous system. Breast milk contains a high proportion of fats (and not only essential fatty acids)! It is therefore inadvisable to restrict your child’s intake of fats and when they start drinking cows’ milk, make sure that it is whole milk rather than semi-skimmed.


In practice: how is it possible to ensure a balanced intake of fatty acids?

Balanced meals, choosing a range of foods that are suitable for their age and always with the 3 following rules in mind:

  • The addition of a tablespoon of uncooked plant-based fat (preferably rapeseed or walnut oil) or a knob of butter or cream (from time to time) at each meal in home-made dishes and in jars of prepared infant food with no added fats.
  • 500ml 2nd stage/growth/breast milk each day, progressively adding dairy products to achieve the equivalent of 500 ml of milk per day until at least the age of 1 (800ml maximum after the age of 1).
  • Fish, meat or eggs: 10 g per day up to the age of 1, or 2 tsp. of blended meat or fish/day, 20g between the ages of 1 and 2, or 4 tsp. or 1/3 of egg and 30g between the ages of 2 and 3, or 6 tsp. Fish is recommended 2 times per week, fresh or frozen, but not breaded fish: 1 dish of non-oil fish (cod, hake, whiting, sole, etc.) and 1 dish of oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardine, herring, smoked trout). Certain fish that may contain PCB (eel, barbel, bream, carp, catfish), or methyl-mercury (swordfish, marlin, siki, shark and lamprey) should be avoided. Consumption of wild predatory fish should also be limited: monkfish (anglerfish), sea bass (bar), bonito, emperor, grenadier, halibut, bream, ray, sabre, tuna…



The nutritional needs of an adult and a child are not the same. A child needs specific, suitable food. Children today consume too much protein and salt in particular, and not enough fats and essential fatty acids.

This is why, both in terms of choosing an infant milk and when making meals for your child, you should not forget to limit the amounts of protein and salt and to add fats, which are crucial for good growth and optimal development in your baby.



LA: linoleic acid

ALA: alpha-linolenic acid

ARA: arachidonic acid

EPA: eicosapentaenoic acid

DHA: docosahexaenoic acid


* Essential fatty acids (EFAs) include:

1/ The precursor EFAs which are truly essential (in other words, humans do not naturally produce them themselves and so they must be provided in food).

2/ and the superior derivatives, the Long Chain Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids:  ARA in the omega 6 family, EPA and DHA in the omega 3 family

** All infant milks are enriched with precursor EFAs, but only 1/3 of them are enriched with LC-PUFAs. From 2020 legislation will require all 1st stage and 2nd stage milks to contain a LC-PUFA omega 3 (DHA) supplement.


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Questions / Answers

If your baby is allergic to cows milk proteins, seek the advice of your doctor. They will help you find the best alternative.

Your baby knows when they are hungry and when they have had too much to eat. You must respect their appetite and never force them to finish what is on their plate. Just like adults, your baby may have more appetite on one day than on another and may not always want to finish what you give them for various reasons. Nonetheless, it is important to make sure they have an appetite at mealtimes by restricting how much they snack between meals and always offer them age-appropriate sized portions.

Dietary diversification generally starts between 4 and 6 months. Certain signs indicate that your baby is ready to accept other foods apart from milk, particularly the fact that they seem to be very interested in what you have on your plate and watch you eat by following your movements. They may also mime chewing and they know how to let you know that they have had enough to eat. Diversification takes place slowly. Different products are introduced progressively and with certain textures.

For more information and advice on dietary diversification, take a look at our tools:

Rest assured, a baby who is still hungry will quickly let you know. A baby who is full also knows how to show it it you! It is important to respect baby’s rhythms and their signs that they are full. Never force them if they are not hungry. If the quantities prescribed by your doctor don’t correspond with what your baby actually consumes, don’t hesitate to talk to them about it.

Making up a bottle is very easy. There is nothing complicated about it, you just need to apply a few hygiene rules and use the right quantities. Don’t hesitate to take a look at our detailed illustrated tutorial and you’ll soon be making up bottles like a pro!

After 12 months, other foods can be introduced into baby’s diet and quantities can be increased. For more information, refer to our calendar of flavours and textures.

Furthermore, milk is still an essential part of baby’s diet after 12 months. It is therefore recommended that between the ages of 12 and 36 months, you continue to give baby a 3rd stage growth milk, specially formulated to fulfil the nutritional requirements of babies in this age range: they are low in protein and contain the nutrients that baby may be lacking, such as iron and essential fatty acids.

After 6 months, infant milk is still just as important! Between 6 and 12 months, it is possible to give baby a 2nd stage follow-on milk.

Additionally, at 6 months at the latest, dietary diversification has started and baby can be given different foods in addition to milk (breast milk or infant milk). For more advice on what baby can eat between 6 and 12 months, quantities and textures, refer to our calendar of flavours and textures.

Nactalia follows WHO recommendations and encourages exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. If you cannot or do not wish to breastfeed, talk to your doctor who will be able to prescribe a suitable 1st stage milk. Between 4 and 6 months, baby’s diet can be diversified and other foods can be given to baby, provided that they are a suitable texture. For more advice, follow our calendar of flavours and textures.

Up to the age of 3, baby has very specific nutritional needs. In particular they need more iron, calcium and essential fatty acids than an adult.

“Normal” milk, or cows milk, which the whole family drinks is generally too rich in proteins and lacking in iron for baby. Infant formula fulfils their needs more effectively.

Between 1 and 3 years, the dairy equivalent to be consumed is 500ml/day. The minimum recommended amount of growth milk (which is specially formulated to provide all of the nutritional requirements of babies in this age range) is 300 ml/day, which is then supplemented with other dairy products to make the recommended 500ml.

Cows milk does not fulfil the specific nutritional requirements of baby before the age of 1.

Between 1 and 3 years, cows milk can be given to baby, but it is preferable to continue with growing-up milks : they contain less protein and all of the nutrients which baby may be lacking, such as iron and essential fatty acids.

Between 0 and 6 months, opt for exclusive breastfeeding and if you cannot or choose not to breastfeed, seek the advice of your doctor. Between 6 and 12 months, it is possible to give baby a 2nd stage follow-on milk. Between 1 and 3 years, it is preferable/advisable to give baby a 3rd stage growth milk.

Progressing from the breast to the bottle corresponds with weaning baby, or in other words is the moment when baby stops breastfeeding and starts using a bottle or starts to have a more varied diet if they are between 4 and 6 months old. It is an obligatory step that can take place very calmly if the transition is managed gently.

To guide you in this transition and help you wean baby gently, we have prepared lots of advice and tips which you can find in our article “A gentle transition for successful weaning”. For even more advice, take a look at our tools for mothers:

Each infant milk has a different flavour and it takes time for baby’s body to adapt. It is recommended that you introduce the new formula progressively, alternating it with the previous one.

Weight gain is not significantly different between breastfed children and those fed with a bottle. Additionally, regular, continuous weight gain is fundamental during baby’s first months. There is no need to worry, each baby is different and grows at their own rate. However, if you are concerned about your baby’s weight, don’t hesitate to talk to your paediatrician.

If you have chosen industrial infant milk, it does not usually cause intestinal gas.
However, if your child is suffering from minor physiological problems such as intestinal gas, certain milks have been specifically formulated to reflect these requirements. For example, Nactalia AD-LF milk has been specially formulated to help babies who are sensitive to lactose to recover from the temporary or permanent symptoms of lactose intolerance, such as intestinal gas, irritation and diarrhoea.
We recommend seeking the advice of your doctor.

Note that intestinal gas may also be the result of colic since babies cry a lot and swallow air

Food allergies are common in children.
Breastfeeding remains the best protection against allergies. Even if breast milk only provides partial protection against the risk of future allergies, no infant formula does any better.
Additionally, if you have chosen an industrial milk, it may be that your child is allergic or intolerant to the lactose or the cows milk protein present in the milk that you have chosen. Solutions are available for children who are sensitive to this kind of allergy, such as the milks containing extensively hydrolysed proteins which have proven to be effective in clinical studies.

However, if this is the case and before doing anything else, we recommend that you consult your doctor.

If you have chosen industrial infant milk, it does not usually cause constipation.
However, if your child is suffering from minor physiological problems such as constipation, certain milks have been specifically formulated to reflect these requirements. For example, Nactalia COMFORT milk has been specially formulated for the dietary treatment of intestinal problems such as constipation.
Before choosing your milk, we recommend seeking the advice of your doctor.

If you observe minor physiological problems in your baby, such as colic, regurgitation, constipation or diarrhoea, this can mean that the infant milk you are using is not fulfilling the requirements of your baby (even if gastrointestinal problems are very common during the first few months of life).

In any case, there is no reason to worry, solutions are available! But before choosing, we recommend that you consult your doctor.

The quantity of milk baby requires each day depends on their age. Note that Nactalia follows WHO recommendations and encourages exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months. For more information on how much milk to give your baby each day, you will find instructions on your Nactalia box indicating the volume of water and number of measuring scoops to give your baby depending on their age.

It is important to note that these quantities are only averages that need to be adapted to reflect your baby’s appetite and how quickly they gain weight.

Never force your baby to finish their bottle if they don’t seem to want to: just like you, there are times when they will be hungrier than others. It is may be that they leave half of their bottle at one meal and then want more milk at the next meal: let them eat in accordance with their requirements! Similarly, the times that they want eat and the intervals between bottles can also vary: it is important to respect baby’s rhythm.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months as breast milk is the optimal form of nutrition for a baby.

If you cannot or do not wish to breastfeed, it will be necessary to choose an infant formula suited to the child’s age. These infant formula fulfil their nutritional requirements, both in terms of macronutrients (lipids, carbohydrates, proteins) and micro nutrients (vitamins, iron, zinc and other minerals…), as well as the absolutely essential provision of calcium.

Do not hesitate to contact your doctor to advise you in your choice of milk.

Breastfeeding is the best way of fulfilling baby’s specific requirements. This is why Nactalia encourages and recommends breastfeeding up until the age of 6 months. If you cannot or choose not to breastfeed, your doctor is the most suitable person to advise you.

Attentive to the needs of mothers and their babies, our scientific teams have studied in depth the composition of breast milk and have devoted their efforts to formulating infant milk formulas that best meet the baby’s natural needs and specific metabolism.

Nactalia offers a range of different formulas to provide the necessary nutrients to ensure your baby grows and develops healthily.

Making sure that baby grows healthily is the n°1 concern for parents!
And achieving this starts in the very first days of life, ensuring that baby gains weight, regularly, every month.
Breastfeeding is the best way of fulfilling baby’s nutritional requirements. However, if you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, the infant milk formulas of Nactalia have been formulated to provide baby with all the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.

Each child has their own specific requirements and children do not gain weight in the same way. So don’t worry!
But if you are feeling overly concerned about your baby’s weight, then talk to your paediatrician.

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