Maternal nutrition and the baby’s nutrition in the first 1000 days is crucial for neurodevelopment and the long-term overall health of the child.
The first 1000 days refers to the timespan from conception through pregnancy, lactation, solids and toddlerhood. This is a precious period of opportunity when the foundations of optimum health, growth and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established early on.
The first 1000 days are the critical period when nutrition has the maximum impact on a child’s brain development and overall growth. If adequate nutrition is not available, overall physical growth is affected, and brain development slows.
In developing countries, due to malnutrition [both overnutrition and undernutrition] and lesser awareness, this important window of opportunity is often handled less than satisfactorily.
As healthcare and public health professionals, there is an important, urgent need to focus on educating mothers and families about this wonderful window of opportunity.
While the brain requires all nutrients for growth, certain nutrients, including protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, essential fatty acids, iron, zinc, copper, iodine, choline, folate and vitamins A, B6 and B12, are particularly critical.
The food a mother takes in these months is critical for the baby’s overall growth and development.
A mother’s diet and her nutrient stores are the only sources of nutrition for a developing baby in its mother’s womb. When a pregnant woman does not get the adequate calories, essential nutrients or adequate proteins that she requires to support her baby’s development, the baby’s health is at risk for delayed development, disabilities and future health issues.
Nutrients of importance are Protein, increased calories, iron, calcium, Omega-3 fats, fibre and fluids.
Folic acid plays an important role in the early conception stage to prevent neural tube defects.
Adequate, well-balanced nutrition has proven to have good outcomes for mothers and babies.
Adequate weight gain in pregnancy is also an area of focus, and under and over-nutrition can both have detrimental effects on pregnancy outcomes.
So, it is important that mothers-to-be take nutrition advice and guidance to manage the three trimesters in a healthy way.
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Increased energy and protein needs are the primary focus in breastfeeding days as babies are totally dependent on the mother for nourishment, hydration and immunity.
Other nutrients that remain important are iron, calcium, Omega-3 fats, etc.
Well-balanced, nourishing home-cooked meals are advised for all new moms.
Hydration becomes very important for proper lactation and prevention of constipation.
Nutrition advice with a mix of ancient wisdom comes into play at this critical phase for recovery and good lactation.
Rapid growth occurs during infancy. Compared to other growth phases, this phase has the largest energy and food needs for body size.
As per the WHO, the right time to start solids for babies is 6 months of age.
And, as per the IYCF AND IAP guidelines, solids are started as purees one food at a time and slowly progressed to mashes around 7 months and finger foods around 9 months. By 1 year, the baby is to be comfortable feeding self and transition to family pot feeding.
This period is very critical for hand-eye coordination, self-feeding, developing different grips and grasps and learning to accept a wide spectrum of flavors and textures.
From a nutrition perspective, early childhood is a period of life when food preferences and eating behaviours, which are greatly influenced by parental feeding practices and role modelling, are firmly and deeply established. Food preferences and eating behaviours have been shown to continue into later life, and this time provides the foundation for good or bad health in later childhood and adulthood too.
Children by this age need to eat all the family food and avoid gadget during meals.
Family mealtimes become an important part of growing up. This ensures independent eating behaviours and less fussy eating too.
Cow’s milk is also introduced at this age and marks an important milestone.
A major focus at this age would be on ensuring they get all food groups every day and learning to help in the kitchen and show interest in washing veggies, setting the dinner table, etc.
To summarize, the solid foundation that is set in the first 1000 days can have a huge impact on the child’s wellbeing and future health outcomes too.
The effects of nutrition in the first 1000 days on growth, learning and neurodevelopment is well established and hence is the central theme of our awareness campaign at Cloudnine group of hospitals for National Nutrition Month 2023.
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