Nurturing and developing a new life is a very crucial and a big responsibility. First 1000 days of life mark the beginning of a new life which starts from conception until the infant is 2 years old. From the very moment the life takes comes into being (conception) in a mother’s womb, its developmental process starts. The phenomenal journey of a single cell to a full-fledged human is no less than a miracle and should be taken care of very delicately. Minor to major developments in the body takes place during this phase. A balanced diet along with exercise helps aid in optimal growth of the embryo into a healthy fetus. The growth and development of the fetus is directly affected by the amount of nutrient intake of the mother. The healthier the mother eats, the healthier the fetus will be.
Importance of The First 1000 Days:
The development of the embryo to fetus is divided into 3 trimesters and infancy after birth. Each term has a developmental phase which shows if the fetus development is going in the right direction or not. The major development that happens in these days is the development of the brain which helps in maintaining the physical, mental and emotional state of the body.
According to an evidence paper produced by a Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, some pointers about fetal development include:
- The age, health and well-being of both mother and father prior to the child’s conception affect the integrity of the embryo right from the very beginning.
- Fetus uses cues provided by their mother’s physical and mental states to ‘predict’ the kind of world they will be born into, and adapts accordingly. This adaptation can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the child’s relationships and environments.
- Human brain and our bodily systems – including the immune, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems – operate as an integrated system, not as separate systems. This means that what happens in the first thousand days affects the whole body, with potentially profound consequences over the life course.
- Disadvantage can be passed down through the generations at a cellular level. Our biology changes in response to stress, poverty and other prolonged adverse experiences, and these changes can be passed on to children from their parents and grandparents.
- When children do not feel safe, calm or protected, the child’s brain places an emphasis on developing neuronal pathways that are associated with survival, before those that are essential to future learning and growth.
- In addition to loving caregivers, children need safe communities, secure housing, access to green parklands, environments free from toxins, and access to affordable, nutritious foods in the form of organic baby food. Many of these needs are beyond the control of individual families. This means that children can only develop as well as their families and their community and our broader society enable them to.
- Not all changes that occur within the first 1000 days are permanent. But as children grow, their ability to alter and change to make up for negative experiences and environments in the first thousand days becomes more difficult.
Nutrition during Gestation
Nutrients supplied to the body are provided in the form of Macro and Micro Nutrients. Macro nutrients are in the form of calories, fats and proteins. Apart from these, micronutrients are also important in the development of the fetus. These include vitamin and minerals. Iron, Folate, Iodine, Zinc, Calcium and Vitamin D are some important nutrients to take care in this period.
Several studies support the evidence that the frequency and severity of pregnancy complications may be reduced through an improvement in the macro- and, especially, micronutrient status of the mothers. The optimal mode of meeting recommended micronutrient intakes is to ensure consumption of a balanced diet that is adequate in every nutrient.
According to one study, consuming a good amount of green leafy vegetables and fruits showed significant increase in anthropometry (Height and Weight) of the infant as compared to those who did not consume them.
Nutrition After Birth
The First Feed
The mother’s first milk, also known as Colostrum, a yellow transparent fluid is fed to the infant in the first hour of birth. According to UNICEF, only 45% of women initiate breastfeeding in the first hour of birth which is very low.
Colostrum contains less fat and carbohydrate but more protein and greater concentrations of sodium, potassium and chloride than mature milk. This is very important as it acts as an immunity builder for the child against diseases like diabetes and hypertension and helps in the optimal growth of the infant. It also creates a tough coating in the baby’s stomach and intestine to keep germs from causing illness. This milk is easily digestible and is a complete source of nutrition for the newborn.
According to the Food and Nutritional Journal, ‘Colostrum is one of the natural sources of vital growth and healing factors’.
The First Six Months
After 2-5 days of delivering the child, the colostrum dilutes into mature milk. By this time the baby’s stomach is stretched and they are able to take more milk at a time. This is a period of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) where the infant is only fed mother’s milk because the baby’s stomach is not ready to digest any other food. All the nutrients required for this period of growth is provided by breastfeeding. In a few cases where a mother is not able to feed her child or her milk is insufficient, the infant is given a formula-based milk which is similar to the content of mother’s milk that can be easily digested. These formulas are based on cow’s milk or soy products.
Only 43% of women breastfeed the infant during this period. The rest of them either use formula milk or cow’s milk for the infant.
Weaning with Complementary Foods
Weaning, also known as ‘Complementary feeding’ is the gradual introduction of solid food to the baby while slowly withdrawing them from breastfeeding. Weaning is usually done after the infant turns 6 months since the mother’s milk is not sufficient to provide the child with all the nutrients required for growth. At this stage, the activities of the infant increases which requires a higher amount of energy which mother’s milk alone cannot provide. This is the period where the child starts to develop control of their bodies like holding their heads up, sitting, picking things around them with their fingers, starting to understand textures, etc. In this phase, they are also learning to chew and swallow food apart from sucking milk.
Weaning is a slow but time taking process. New organic baby food should be introduced to the infant one at a time in a gap of at least 5-7 days. This gives the child some time to get accustomed to the taste and helps us determine if the infant is allergic to any food given to them. 6-month Baby Foods are initiated in the form of pureed fruits and vegetables first, soft cooked foods next and later to small portions of normal food which we consume. The most important thing to keep in mind while preparing the food for an infant is to not use any salt and sugar in them because their kidneys are still developing and it is hard for them to filter salts and sugar is not recommended because they can cause dental caries. 6 month baby diet can be planned effectively to introduce maximum foods to build the baby’s developing palate.
Feeding Older Infants
Weaning starts from the age of 6 months and can go up to the age of 1.5 to 2 years depending on how frequently or slowly the child accepts new foods. By this time the child is completely off breastfeeding. At this age, children can become fussy eaters in regards to what and how much they eat. According to UNICEF, only about 43% of women continue to breastfeed the child after 2 years of age.
Children by this age have learnt a lot of skills like swallowing food, holding a spoon and feeding themselves. They should be encouraged to eat by themselves when they are hungry even if they make a mess. This is because it helps them understand the food they are eating and helps attain satiety. They can be helped by feeding them when they get tired by eating by themselves. Children should be given simple foods in bite sizes and should be mildly spiced. Raw fruits and vegetables should be mashed so that it can be eaten easily with the spoon.
Hence Eating healthy and Eating right is very important in the initial stages of life. The major body developments occur in the prime years of life and it is important to provide the infant with healthy and nutritious food. Poor Nutrition can result in illness, underdeveloped body and many other factors physically and mentally. Growth retardation, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), Allergies, Celiac diseases, Diabetes, Obesity, etc are few major illnesses that can be caused due to improper nutrition.