1,000 days of nourishment

Paying attention to a child's nutrition from birth is vital to his/her overall development

Include lots of veggies in your kids' diet

Nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life is crucial for the growth and development of an infant. The first 1,000 days of life spans from conception to the child’s second birthday. According to latest findings, 38% of children under five years are stunted, and only 41% of infants are breastfed within an hour of birth. Malnutrition was always a synonym to undernutrition. But today, we are also facing malnutrition in terms of over-nutrition. So, why do we still have
deficiency and stunting in our country? The reason is either there is no sufficient food to meet the daily requirements, or there is an overconsumption of bad food. Both these conditions affect neurological development.

Prenatal stage (0 -280 days)

The development of the spine, skull and brain starts in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid is a critical vitamin that helps in preventing spina bifida, neural tube defect and other life-threatening birth defects. For the neurological development of the foetus, protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, along with iron are vital. Official data shows that only 30% of mothers consumed iron and folic acid for 100 days or more during pregnancy. Studies have shown anaemic mothers have children with lower mental development scores.

On the other hand, improper eating patterns in expectant mothers can also cause childhood obesity. Mothers who have high pre-pregnancy BMI and excessive gestational weight gain are a case in point. Therefore, the right kind of nutrition is more important rather than following the age-old advice that an expectant mother needs to eat for two people.

Post-natal stage (280 days - 6 months)

Breast milk is the first option of all healthy mothers and is a golden standard of infant feeding. Breast milk is the natural way to provide growth factors and immunity enhancers. Colostrum is the first form of milk produced by mammary glands that develops a natural protective shield with antibodies to protect the newborn infant against infection.
It is quite astonishing to know that a majority of new mothers are ill-informed and have various misconceptions about breastfeeding because of which they fall short of proper breastfeeding practices and blame it on insufficient milk. Even though various guidelines are implemented, only 41% of the mothers have initiated breastfeeding within one hour, 55% of children were exclusively breastfed for six months, and 8% of them continued breastfeeding for two years.

Complementary feeding stage (6 months - 24 months)

Weaning should be started only after six months as the infant’s digestive enzymes are developed to tolerate solid foods. Always start with a single ingredient like rice, wheat or millet. Gradually, fruits, vegetables, pulses and non-vegetarian components can be added. Introduce one food 15 times to acclimatise the baby’s taste buds. Keep the food with your baby only for 30 minutes and then remove it to incorporate disciplined meal timings.

Infancy is the stage where children develop their taste buds and preferences towards different types of food. Avoiding addition of sugar at this stage helps in delaying the development of sweet tooth at such a tender age. Now you might think, what is wrong with sugar? As per WHO guidelines, only 5% of the total energy should come from sugar. Sugar has a tendency to cause dependency. Children often display symptoms of withdrawal when they are deprived 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.

This only goes to show the importance of nutrition during the first 1,000 days of birth. And ignorance at this stage can prove detrimental to the child’s well-being.

(The author is a senior nutritionist, Pristine Organics)

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1,000 days of nourishment

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