Child Health – Bringing Up Baby
The first 1,000 days are a crucial period that shapes the future of a child. The period from the start of the mother’s pregnancy till the child’s second birthday especially, is a critical window where there is rapid growth and development, both mentally and physically. Health, lifestyle habits and proper nutrition – of both the parents and child – play the key role during this period, to lay the foundation for a healthy body and rewarding future.
Good nutrition and care in the early years, for both the mother during her pregnancy and the child who is still an infant-toddler, are essential to develop a healthy immune system. A weak immune system is responsible for acute illnesses like pneumonia or diarrhea, and other illnesses such as food allergy, eczema and asthma. If this period is neglected, the damage is irreversible.
On a worldwide scale, the consequence of poverty and under nutrition in developing countries is severe and often irreversible. Worldwide campaigns to improve maternal and infant nutrition in this 1,000-day window claim to be able to save over 1 million lives per year. On an individual level, attention to nutrition in this period reduces the risk of chronic mental and physical disease in the person’s lifetime.
The benefits of breastfeeding in early life cannot be emphasized enough. For the first few months of a baby’s life, all it needs is breast milk. If breastfeeding is not possible, infant formulas are the best alternative. We recommend introducing solids between the ages of 4 to 6 months. First solids are usually baby rice cereal, cooked and pureed fruits and vegetables (eg: pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, apple, pear) or mashed fresh foods (eg: banana, avocado).
After a few weeks, once the baby is enjoying a range of fruits and vegetables, you can introduce protein like beef, lamb, chicken, fish and lentils. Other dairy products can also be introduced now – like yogurt and mild cheese.
Water should not be introduced before 4-6 months; it should coincide with the introduction of solid food. Even in hot weather conditions, babies get all the hydration they need from milk. After 12 months, formula milk can be replaced with fresh cow’s milk. Breastfeeding can continue until 1 or 2 years of age or as long as the mother and baby desire. Breast milk is the most natural, safe and optimal nutrition you can offer your baby in this crucial early period, to give them a healthy start to life. It also protects fro a host of childhood illnesses, for instance, ear infections or gastroenteritis, as well as obesity, cancer, and allergy. Breastfeeding is also linked to higher IQ and cognitive development.
Nothing helps a baby’s long-term health and disease-fighting ability like breastfeeding
Right from conception to delivery, maternal nutrition and health has a direct impact on the health of the baby. An undernourished mother has a higher risk of infant death and long-term health problems. Similarly, obesity during pregnancy is becoming a growing problem in the UAE, and leads to an increased risk of complications for the mother, such as diabetes and high blood pressure and complications during the delivery. Babies born to mothers with a high Body Mass Index (BMI) are also at risk of being born overweight, which carries its own labour and post-partum risks.
It is very important for mothers to recognize that healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle – starting from pre-conception to after delivery – will have a direct impact on the health of their baby. Even after delivery, mothers are role models for their children, and promoting good nutrition and regular exercise will enable their children to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
During the first three years, parents also need to watch out for warning signs. Major ones include the baby being unresponsive to sounds, vision concerns or the yes deviating in different directions, not sitting independently by 10 months, not walking by 18 months, not uttering a single word by 15 months and preference for right or left-handedness before the age of 1. Also look out for developmental regression at any age, when a child is no longer able to perform a skill previously acquired.
MAXIMIZE A CHILD’S DEVELOPMENT:
- Talk to your child, tell them stories
- Sing to your baby
- Read to your child-a baby is never too young to read to
- Display unconditional love and affection in your house
- Make time to play together
- Play outdoors
- Encourage floor play time
- Choose creative, imaginative toys
- Have family meals at the table
- Feed your kids nutritious meals