Infant Nutrition: Know What Your Baby Needs
Infant nutrition needs for normal growth and development
Adequate nutrition is essential for healthy growth and development of the baby. Research shows that frequent illnesses, weak immunity and obesity are common in cases of under nourished infants. Poor nutrition in early childhood also results in low intellectual capacity as the child grows.
The weight of the baby is three times its birth weight around the first birthday. Thus, breast milk alone is not enough to provide nutrition for such rapid growth. Hence, an infant is slowly started on complementary food like soups, porridges, etc. in addition to breast milk to fulfill the body’s demand for different nutrients.
A new born baby derives its nutrition solely from mother’s milk for up to 6 months. According to the World Health Organization nutrition for infants up to 6 month should primarily consist of breast milk.
Substitute milk formula is used instead of breast milk for fulfilling the nutritional requirement of infants in cases where the mother is unable to feed the baby or the milk produced is insufficient.
Infant nutrition facts
Infant nutritional requirements for a robust baby are as follows:
- Proteins are necessary for overall healthy growth and muscle development.
- Calcium is needed for strong teeth and bones. Calcium is absorbed in the body in the presence of vitamin D.
- Adequate amount of iron is required for blood formation.
- Vitamin B complex and folates are important for a healthy immune system, development of brain and nerves, energy production, etc.
- Vitamin A is required for a healthy vision, skin and hair
- Vitamin K is necessary for clotting of blood in order to prevent blood loss in case of heavy bleeding.
- Vitamin C is essential for healthy gums, to protect against infections and for rapid healing of wounds.
- Fats are important for brain and nervous system development.
- Carbohydrates provide energy.
Infant nutrition supplements
After birth the body’s need for nutrients like calcium, iron and vitamin D is considerably high. Infants cannot acquire this exclusively from the mother’s milk. Hence it is necessary to start with iron and vitamin D supplement in exclusively breast fed infants. The doctor may also advice multivitamin supplement drops along with iron in some cases to fulfill the nutritional requirement of the baby.
Formula milk is used as a substitute as well as a supplement for breast milk to complete the nutritional requirement of infants. The composition of formula milk is similar to that of breast milk. Formula milk powders are fortified with an extra amount of iron and vitamins. The proteins in the milk formula are processed so that they are easily digestible by the infant. The quantity of different minerals and other nutrients (fats, carbohydrates, etc.) in formula milk is adjusted to make it comparable with mother’s milk, in terms of its thickness and sweetness.
Various compositions of formula milk powders are available in the market that are suitable for different stages of infancy (e.g. 0 to 3 months, 3 to 6 months, 6 months to 1 year, etc.)
Infant nutrition and weaning
For optimal infant nutrition, the diet should be complemented with other foods around 4 months to 6 months because mother’s milk is insufficient to fulfill the increasing demand of nutrients by the growing baby.
At 6 months, formula milk is commonly introduced to babies in addition to or instead of breast milk. Introduction of semi-solid to solid foods in the infant’s diet begins between 4 to 6 months. Outside food should be light to digest and should be started gradually one after the other to observe whether the baby is able to tolerate each of the newly introduced food items. Weaning involves gradual replacement of milk with solid foods.
Few examples of food items that are used for weaning include vegetable soups, chicken stalk, rice kanji, dal water, fruit juices, cereals, egg white, soft idli, mashed fruits, and porridges.
Food items used in the process of weaning should be able to fulfill the nutritional demands of the infant in addition to milk.
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Disclaimer: The information in the article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor.
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