Is your baby getting enough nutrients? It’s National Nutrition Week and we focus on the significance of adequate nutrition for babies and toddlers more so as malnutrition in the country increases.
The 1,000-day period from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday emerges as the pivotal window for promoting optimal nutrition.
Lizeth Kruger, Dis-Chem Baby City’s national clinic executive, advises parents to take the nutrition of their babies seriously and get as much help and information as they can from nursing sisters in the clinics when they go for their baby check-ups.
“Lack of proper nutrition can be caused not only by not having enough to eat but also not eating enough of the right foods. It is possible for a baby to be eating well but remain undernourished so the right nutrition is crucial, and this can be monitored through regular visits and reviewing growth charts with the assistance of health professionals,” Kruger says.
She provides some tips on achieving the best nutrition results to keep those tiny tummies well-fed, happy, and thriving:
- Foetal growth restriction
Good maternal nutrition is essential for foetal growth and infant survival. Foetal growth restriction (FGR) is a condition in which the baby’s growth is stunted in the womb. Newborns with FGR are at increased risk of stunting by 24 months, which in turn raises the risk of infant mortality.
Maternal malnutrition can lead to complications such as low birth weight, preterm birth, and increased vulnerability to infections, all of which contribute to higher infant mortality rates. To ensure that your baby receives the necessary building blocks for organ development, immune system strengthening, and overall growth, pregnant women should eat a balanced diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals and take prenatal vitamins and mineral supplements. Breastfeeding is the best way to provide babies with essential nutrients and protect them from disease, while also benefiting mothers by reducing their risk of postpartum depression and certain types of cancer. Children aged 6-59 months should receive vitamin A and zinc supplementation.
- Vitamins and minerals
During the first six months, breast milk is your baby’s primary source of nutrition. However, as they approach six months, it’s important to introduce iron-rich foods like fortified cereals to support brain development and overall growth. Introducing solid foods can be an exciting adventure! Begin with single-ingredient, easily digestible options like pureed fruits, vegetables, and grains to ensure a smooth transition. Toddlers are renowned explorers, and their culinary journey should be no different. Offer a variety of iron-rich foods to cater to their changing tastes and nutritional needs.
Protein is essential for toddler growth and development. Incorporate lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, and legumes into their diet to support muscle development and cognitive functions. Calcium is crucial for building strong bones and teeth. Offer age-appropriate daily options like milk and yoghurt to ensure your toddler enjoys a well-rounded diet.
Toddlers that are 12 months and over are known for their selective eating habits, which can be frustrating, but it’s a normal phase of development. Offer a variety of foods, and don’t stress if they reject certain items. Keep offering new foods, and eventually they may come around.
- Beyond six months
Start by preparing small, bite-sized pieces of the vegetable or fruit that has captured your baby’s interest or opt for a brightly coloured, naturally sweet food. While your baby is exploring new tastes, you can also introduce a mashed version of the same food using a spoon, allowing you to gauge your baby’s preference.
During this stage, it’s perfectly fine for your baby to sample food from your own plate, even a few times each day, if the food isn’t spicy, heavily processed, or unhealthy.
The quantity of food your baby needs will vary from one child to another once solid meals are introduced, so it’s essential to pay attention to your child’s cues and rely on your common sense.
Avoid offering non-food items or ‘junk food,’ and refrain from using oils, butter, margarine, or sugar in your baby’s meals. By following these guidelines, you can ensure that weight-related concerns won’t be an issue. Remember, if your child is seeking love and attention, avoid substituting food, and instead, provide the affection and time your child needs.
- Establishing healthy habits
Creating a positive mealtime environment sets the stage for healthy eating habits. Avoid distractions like screens and ensure meals are family-focused, fostering a sense of routine and connection. It is also essential to consult with nurses at the clinics if there are any concerns about your baby or toddler’s nutrition. They provide personalised guidance based on your child’s unique needs.
From the first feed to the toddler’s exploration of flavours, ensuring your baby and toddler receive adequate nutrition is a journey of love and care. Understanding their revolving nutritional requirements, introducing a variety of nutrient-rich foods, and embracing each phase of development will empower you to nourish your child’s body and mind. With a foundation of health and well-being, you are setting the stage for future filled with energy, growth, and boundless exploration.
National Nutrition Week is a reminder that the journey is healthy lives begins with adequate nutrition, especially for babies and toddlers.