The importance of the first 1000 days of life:
The first 1000 days of life – comprises of woman’s pregnancy (starting from conception till delivery, 270 days) and her child’s 1st two years (730 days) and this is an exclusive period of opportunity when the foundations for optimum health and development across the lifespan are established. While the human brain continues to develop, the most rapid period of brain growth is in the last three months of pregnancy and the first two years of a baby’s life after birth. While all nutrients are essential for brain development and function, optimal brain development depends on providing sufficient quantities of vital nutrients during specific and sensitive time periods in these first 1,000 days.
Vital nutrients required for baby’s brain development and growth:
While the brain requires all nutrients for growth, specific nutrients, including protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, iron, zinc, copper iodine, choline, folate and vitamins A, B6, and B12 are particularly critical. Of these, iron, represents the necessity of adequate nutrition at specific times of brain growth to ensure full developmental potential.
Important nutrients for healthy pregnancy and fetal growth:
The nutrient requirements increase in a woman during pregnancy for those 9 months. During this period the diet followed by mother is should benefit the ‘Two’ i.e. herself and the growing fetus as well. The important nutrients required are good quality proteins, essential amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iron. Mother’s diet should be balanced containing all of these nutrients. Baby’s weight and overall growth at the time of birth are dependent on the mother’s diet during these 9 months of pregnancy.
Important nutrients during pregnancy:
- Proteins: Milk and milk products, eggs, chicken, fish, pulses, legumes, sprouts, nuts
- Essential amino acids like lysine: Whole grains and cereals
- Omega-3 fatty acids are required for the brain development of the fetus. The sources are flaxseed, almonds, walnuts, til, fish.
- Iron: Green leafy vegetables, black raisins, dates, jaggery, garden cress seeds, ragi. Along with these iron-rich foods, the right amount of proteins and vitamin c (lemon, amla) should also be taken in the diet for proper absorption of iron.
- Folic acid, vitamin B12: All non-vegetarian foods, fermented foods, milk, and milk products, green leafy vegetables
- Calcium and vitamin D: Milk and milk products, rajgeera, til, ragi and non-vegetarian foods and sunlight exposure for vitamin D.
We can divide these first 1000 days of life into three-time points such as pregnancy, a period of exclusive breastfeeding and period of complementary feeding along with breastfeeding.
Myths and facts during pregnancy period:
Let’s discuss first the myths and facts about the diet during pregnancy.
Pregnancy means you need to eat for the two:
How can dietary requirement for an adult woman be similar to the requirement for 3 Kg baby? So this is a myth that the woman should eat for the two during pregnancy. The calorie requirement increases by 20% during pregnancy but that also in the last 3-4 months. Along with calories, the increased requirement for iron, calcium, proteins, and vitamins should also be fulfilled. For this, ‘what to eat’ is more important than ‘how much to eat’.
Eat sweets and extra ghee and butter in moderate quantities only during pregnancy:
In our Indian families, once the woman becomes pregnant, everyone starts pampering her a lot. And the usual method to pamper is made her eat lots of sweets, ghee, and butter to make the baby healthy and chubby and also for the sake of normal delivery. There is a chance of significantly increased weight of mother and baby due to the excessive intake of sweets, ghee, and butter and in this case, the chances of normal delivery also decrease.
Avoid eating outside and packed foods during pregnancy:
Pregnancy women tend to eat lots of outsides and packed food items (chaat, chocolates, chips, etc.) during pregnancy. This can lead to a significant increase in her weight and it also increases the risk of stomach infections. Higher sodium content in chips and other packed food items can increase the blood pressure during pregnancy. In addition to all this, ajino-moto in Chinese foods, artificial colors, sugar in chocolates and caffeine can be harmful to the growing baby.
Should the intake of non-vegetarian foods be stopped during pregnancy?:
Many pregnant women stop eating non-veg foods during pregnancy. The non-veg foods provide good quality proteins in a reasonable quantity which are essential for baby’s growth. Non-vegetarian women can have home-made non-veg foods (chicken, fish, eggs) in fewer quantities but on a regular basis. Vegetarian women should include milk, curd, cheese, paneer in their diet to get good quality proteins.
What should be done about tea, coffee, and soft drinks?:
Tea and coffee have caffeine and tannin content in it respectively. Significantly higher intake of caffeine increases the risk of abortion. Tanin hinders the absorption of iron, decreases the appetite. A pregnant woman doesn’t get any vital nutrients through these beverages. In addition to this, there is an increased intake of sugar through these beverages. Cold drinks contain soda, artificial colors and lots of sugar. Not only a pregnant woman but all other people should also avoid having cold drinks.
Don’t look at the weight gain in pregnancy:
Nowadays, in many pregnant women, there is a significant amount of weight gain during pregnancy. This is because of the wrong eating habits and a myth that exercise should avoid during pregnancy. The ideal weight gain for a healthy weight woman should be 8-10 Kg in the whole pregnancy. 1 Kg in the first three months, 3-4 Kg in the next three months and 5-6 Kg weight gain in the last three months of pregnancy.
In the case on women who are overweight from before pregnancy, this much of weight gain is not recommended. So, consult your doctor for recommended weight gain and exercises during pregnancy. Excessive weight gain during pregnancy increases the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure. This can also cause problems during the delivery. To avoid all this, concentrate on the weight gain from the 1st month only. In case of higher or lower weight gain, consult your nutritionist.
Taking supplements/ protein powders without consulting the doctor or nutritionist:
By referring to the various advertisements on supplements and protein powders many pregnant women tend to take these in their daily diet which is not required to take. These don’t help but can cause harm during pregnancy. Don’t take any kind of supplements without consulting the doctor or nutritionist. If required, they will prescribe the dose of supplements.
Exclusive breastfeeding should be done for the first 6 months. Mother’s breast milk is the only and the healthiest food for the baby. Breastfeeding has a lot of importance in the first 1000 days of the life of a baby.
Myths and facts during the period of exclusive breastfeeding (first 6 months):
Give honey, sugar water, gutti to the baby before starting the breastfeeding:
This is a very wrong practice. This can cause a delay in starting the breastfeeding, increases the chance of infections. Do exclusive breastfeeding for 1st 6 months. Do not give anything to the baby in these 6 months except water.
Delay in starting the breastfeeding:
According to the World Health Organization, breastfeeding should be started within an hour after birth. Still, this practice is not followed in many places. Especially after cesarean section, breastfeeding is started on the second day. Doctors should promote the breastfeeding should be started within an hour after birth. Nowadays many hospitals have lactation counselors who are experts in this field and can guide well. Because of any reason/ busy schedule if there is a delay from doctors to guide on this then family members and mother herself should take a lead in this regards.
If breast milk is not sufficient for the baby then give formula feed:
The breast milk is produced in less quantity for 2-3 days after delivery. The first yellow colored milk comes which is called as ‘colostrum’ is very rich in vital nutrients which are very important for boosting baby’s immune system. So this milk has to be given to the baby. Even if it comes in less quantity this much milk is sufficient for the baby for first 2-3 days after birth. If the mother is not getting enough breastmilk then many people start giving cow’s milk or formula feed to the baby. This should be avoided. Keep always in mind that the production of breastmilk increases as much the mother does breastfeeding.
Use bottle for giving cow’s milk or water:
Many babies are given milk/ water using the bottle for convenience. This should be avoided. Baby get used to the bottle feeding and soon it becomes the habit and these babies refuse for breastfeeding. There are various disadvantages of bottle feeding. Through bottle feeding unnecessarily extra amount of milk is given/ taken by baby which can lead to increased risk of excessive weight gain of a baby. These babies have increased the risk of developing diabetes and obesity-related disorders in the future. There are chances of infections if the bottle is not kept cleaned and sterile.
Start complementary feeding before 6 months:
Many people start giving complementary feeds to the baby within 3-4 months after birth. The digestive system of the baby is weak in this period. Giving complementary foods (foods other than breastmilk) can cause diarrhea and infections in the baby. To avoid this wait until the baby becomes 6 months old.
Complementary feeding is the shift from exclusive breastfeeding to introduction and consumption of family foods, typically covers the period from 6 to 18-24 months of age. The first two years of a child’s life are considered as the critical window of opportunity and during this time the foundations of a healthy growth and development are established.
Myths and facts during the period of complementary feeding along with breastfeeding (6 months-2 years):
Give baby only the liquid foods or foods ground finely in a mixer:
When the complementary feeding is started, usually rice water, dal water, fruit juice, coconut water such clear liquids are given to the baby. There is no such requirement. Foods thicker than the breastmilk should be started and softer semisolid foods should be started soon after that. When baby becomes 7-8 months old his/her gums have become strong even if the teeth have not developed yet. So instead of giving the foods finely ground in a mixer, mashed foods which can be eaten by the baby can be given. This helps the baby to start chewing early and adequately.
Add more amount of sugar and salt in babies diet:
Because baby should eat with interest or we follow such habit, so we include more amount salt and sugar in babies complementary foods also. Ideally, salt and sugar should be avoided for the 1st year. And after 1 year also salt and sugar should not be added in large quantities so that baby will develop a good habit of taking less salt and sugar which will decrease the future risk of non-communicable diseases and this all will help the baby.
If the baby is not hungry then also feed him/ her compulsory, show him/her TV while eating:
Many parents feed the baby compulsory because of their love and worry for the baby and his/her proper growth. Even if the baby refuses to eat, move his mouth away from the food plate, throw the food out of the mouth, then also parents feed the baby with constant efforts and then only they stop. Many times parents run behind baby to finish the food or show him/her TV or mobile games or videos while feeding to grab his/ her attention and then feed. These practices are wrong. Baby does not feel any love regarding the food.
Feeding the baby compulsory when he/ she is not hungry can increase their weight and fats in the body. Afterward, the baby doesn’t eat till you show him/ her TV or mobile. Make the baby, sit at one place and eat. Make it as a habit. Don’t expect the baby to eat the same and fixed amount of food at each time/ meal. The appetite of baby do changes either it decreases or increases. It decreases in summer season or when the baby is not well. If the baby is not ready to have food then do respect his/ her decision. Give the food after some time, don’t force the baby to eat.
Stop breastfeeding the baby before 2 years:
Mothers tend to decrease the frequency of breastfeeding once the complementary feeding is started, but many times they stop breastfeeding before 2 years. As the breastfeeding has advantages for the baby, it has for the mother also. So until the baby becomes 2 years old, continue doing breastfeeding at least 1-2 times a day.
These first 1000 days of life builds up the base for the whole life of the baby and for this base to be strong enough, keeping good health of the mother and baby is very much essential. So be aware of these myths and facts and make your friends also aware of these.
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