By Ishita Biswas
The first 2 years of life are characterised by rapid physical growth and social growth and development. Many changes occur which directly affect feeding and nutrient intake. In fact, the adequacy of infants’ nutrient intakes affect their interactions with their environment. Healthy, well- nourished infants have the energy to respond to and learn from the stimuli in their environment, including interactions with their parents, caregivers in such ways which encourage bonding and attachment.
So, how do we do that? How do we keep our baby happy and healthy?
In this article, we will intertwine 4 broad aspects for the first 1000 days of life i.e. Immunization, Sanitation, Activity and Nutrition holistically.
It all starts from the beginning.
The length of gestation, the mother’s pre-pregnancy weight, her weight during gestation, her nutrition and activity levels determines an infant’s birth weight and consequently his adult inclinations.
First, the importance of breast milk in protecting the new born from infection is recognized worldwide. Infant morbidity and mortality have been directly affected by a decline in breastfeeding. There is no substitute for breast milk. Commercial formulas may meet the nutritional needs of premature and term infants; however, the protective properties of breast milk are unique and cannot be duplicated in any laboratory.
Please do not stop breastfeeding if you are nursing and you’ve got a flu. You’d be surprised – but you would actually be giving the baby antibodies to fight the flu.
Immunising children against vaccine-preventable diseases can greatly reduce childhood morbidity and mortality, as well. Yes, we do agree that more Indian babies are receiving all basic vaccinations than a decade ago, portraying better-educated mothers and better healthcare. But India still dawdles slowly behind China – which vaccinated more than 90% of its children.
Secondly, if sanitation is not maintained, a strong immunity can do only so much.Adopting good sanitation practices is the first step to ensure that one leads a healthy life. They can be transmitted from the hands, feet and skin into the body causing diarrhoea, food poisoning, respiratory infections and malnutrition.
Simple concepts about germs being present everywhere and how you can prevent these germs, must be stressed upon at a time when they are still building habits. Washing hands and feet at particular timings, toilet training, keeping their surroundings clean, safe storage and consumption of water and the likes. Ensure to make these a routine to inculcate good sanitary habits.It will also enable children tounderstand that they are responsible for their health.
Next, one always rushes to wean the child, as they think delaying can lead to slower growth. One should be aware that below 4 months of age, the child lacks adequate secretion of digestive enzymes. They have an immature gut which is limited in what foods it can digest and absorb. Hence, do not hurry! Every child is different from the other to reach their physical milestones at different age, same applies to the readiness to weaning.
One must observe, assess and feed, when, 1. they can sit up well with no support; 2. they gain the ability to munch and move the food backwards using the tongue and;3. coordinate their hands to guide foods to the mouth. Wait till the child is showing these signs of readiness.
(Also, Start brushing your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear!)
Third, one of the curses parents deal withare when one spends more time pushing the food around on their plate instead of eating. To avoid these unwanted situations,
• Introduce many different foods in toddler years. Remember the 15/30 rule – Introduce one food 15 times to acclimatize the baby’s taste threshold; 30- Keep the food with your baby only for 30 minutes and then remove it to incorporate disciplined meal timings.
• Parents must decide and routinely follow ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ to eat.
• The child must deicide whether to eat and how much to eat. (Do not worry – Hunger is the best chef) Forcing your child to complete an amount of food decided by you will make him averse to eating.
• There should always be one meal for everyone in the family. (No special food for anyone!)
• Do not bribe or reward with treats/sweet foods. (This increases the chances of food being treated as a consequence of one’s action)
Fourthly, children and even infants, often display symptoms of withdrawal when they deprive themselves of sugar-rich foods. They also have food cravings, particularly for high carbs, which can trigger impulsive eating. This leads to a vicious cycle of self-medication with sweet foods that may result in obesity or an eating disorder.
You will never find people addicted to fat by itself – drinking a glass of melted butter, never, but butter cookies, puff pastries, chocolate, yes. The common factor here again are the sugars.Sugars have a strong addictive nature. Which is why it is important to cut-off these hollow calories- especially at a younger age – especially baby foods. Sugar addiction occurs even at this delicate stage.Reversing the effects of sugar is a slow and steady process. But I assure you, the benefits are immense.
Without these sugars in the diet, chronic diseases in adulthood like Obesity, Diabetes, Hypertension and High Lipid Profiles would be occasional, if not, in some cases, even fictional.
Finally, the cognitive development that occurs during childhood and adolescence is essential to a person’s adult health. Several studies have stated that cognitive scores assessed in early life were associated with academic achievement, mental ability, and morbidity risk in later life.
Evidence accumulated over the past two decades has shown that higher levels of physical activity behaviour in children are related to increases in cognitive function and academic performance, while more sedentary behaviour has been shown to exert the opposite effect.
So please do let your toddler have ample of sun-soaked time outside and indoors, instead of sitting inactive in front of ‘Black Mirrors’. A balance between exercising the brain and the body is sine qua non.
Do keep these comprehensive tips handy for a happy and healthy, baby and you!
About the author
Ishita Biswas is Nutritionist at Pristine Organics Pvt Ltd.