It is well recognized that the period from birth to two years of age is the "critical window" for the promotion of good growth, health, and behavioral and cognitive development. Therefore, optimal infant and young child feeding is crucial during this period. Optimal infant and young child feeding means that mothers are empowered to initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth, breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue to breastfeed for two years or more, together with nutritionally adequate, safe, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting at six months. Maternal nutrition is also important for ensuring good nutrition status of the infant as well as safeguarding women's health. It is well recognized that the period from birth to two years of age is the "critical window" for the promotion of good growth, health, and behavioral and cognitive development. Therefore, optimal infant and young child feeding is crucial during this period.
Breastfeeding and complementary feeding
It is important for mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding until their babies are 6 months old. This means that mothers and other caregivers should not give babies any other milks, foods or liquids, not even sips of water. However, Drops of syrups consisting vitamins, mineral supplements or medicines are allowed.
Exclusive breastfeeding is the perfect way to provide the best food for a baby´s first six months of life, benefiting children the world over. But breastfeeding is so much more than food alone; breastfed infants are much less likely to die from diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and other diseases. Breastfeeding supports infants´ immune systems and helps protect from chronic conditions later in life such as obesity and diabetes. Suboptimum breastfeeding still accounts for an estimated 1.4 million deaths in children under five annually.
Introducing cereal or other starter foods too early can cause digestive problems such as gas and loose stools, constipation or food allergies.
This is the introduction complementary foods. After 6 months, breast milk alone is not enough because of the increased nutritional needs of the growing baby. Breast milk continues to be an important part of the diet until the baby is at least 2 years.
Complementary feeding provides iron which gets depleted by the time is the baby is 6 months, helps to develop chewing reflex, exposes the baby to a verity of flavors, textures thus preparing her for adult food and also provides essential nutrients including Vitamins, Iodine, Zinc and Calcium which are very important for the baby´s optimal growth and development.
After 6 months of age children should receive vitamin A supplements twice a year.
When your baby starts to eat
Give a baby 1 or 2 table spoons of a new soft food twice each day. Gradually increase the Consistency, amount and variety of food in the baby´s diet.
Infant should gradually start to eat thick porridge and mashed or pureed foods as they become used to eating and chewing different foods.
Fats oils and sugar can be added to baby´s food in moderation. They improve the energy continent of the diet. Fats also improve the absorption of some vitamins and the taste of food. However foods high in sugar and fat should be avoided due to their links to tooth decay as well as decreasing a child´s appetite for healthy foods. Another drawback to foods high in sugar and fat is that they can lead to obesity in children.
By 7 months, your baby has started developing the skills necessary to increase her food repertoire. He or she will probably start to try picking up objects with her thumb and forefinger, a skill called the pincer grasp. He or she will also continue to mouth everything it can get her hands on, another sign that he or she ready for an expanded diet.
Besides the staple foods like porridge, rice, mashed bananas and potatoes, babies need to eat some legumes, meat, poultry, fish or eggs every day. Dark green vegetables and fruits provide important nutrients for a baby.
Enrich the baby´s porridge and mashed foods with milk, roasted and mashed groundnuts and other nuts and seeds. Use of germinated cereals and fermentation improves food quality and digestion.
Safe preparation and storage of baby´s foods
- Mothers and other care givers should wash their hands with clean running water and soap before preparing food, and before and after feeding a baby. Hand washing is important after changing nappies or going to the toilet. The baby´s hand should also be washed.
- All bowls, cups and utensils should be washed well with clean water and soap and should be kept covered before using. They are difficult to clean and cause your baby to become sick.
- Prepare food in a clean area and keep it covered to protect it. Babies should have their own cups and a bowl. Serve food immediately after preparation. Left over food should not be given to the baby later.
- Babies should gradually learn to feed themselves. An adult or older child should encourage the baby to eat enough food and ensure that the food remains clean.
Tips for feeding the baby
- Between the age of 6 months and 2 years, a child needs to continue breastfeeding or have 2 cups of milk each day in addition to other.
- Avoid giving a baby drinks with no nutritional value such as tea, coffee, soda and other sugary or colored drinks. Give fresh juice in moderation.
- Babies who are 6 months and older should be given treated or boiled water each day to satisfy their thirst.
- Always feed the baby using a clean open cup. Avoid using bottles and teats. They are difficult to clean and can cause your baby to become sick.
- During illness give the baby frequent meals and more fluids, including breast milk or other milk. Encourage the baby to eat a variety of his or her favorite soft foods. After illness give more food and more often than usual.
- Energy in food allows children to play, to learn, and to grow. This food energy is measured in calories. Calories come from carbohydrate, protein and fat. It is important for a child to eat enough calories, or the child´s body will use needed protein and fat stores for energy.
- Calories must be provided throughout the day. Because they have small appetites, preschool children generally need two or three snacks in addition to three meals every day. If a child skips a meal, not enough calories or other nutrients will be eaten for that day. The calories from skipped meals are not "made up" at a later meal. Therefore, regular meals and snacks are very important to assure good growth.
- Protein is essential for growth. Protein is used to build new blood, bone and muscles. Because children are growing, their protein needs are higher for their body size than adults. Following age appropriate food patterns will assure that the children in your care will be getting adequate amounts of protein.
- Calcium provides the structure of bone and teeth. Because children´s bones must lengthen for them to grow, calcium is a critical nutrient during childhood. Children need two to four times more calcium for their body weight than adults need. The calcium that is stored during the childhood years is vital to the health and well being of that person throughout life.
Information Source Links
- Phyllis A. Balch, and James F Balch (2000). Prescription fro Nutritional healing, 3rd Edition.
- Ministry of Medical Services. (2010).GOK. Kenya National Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics Reference manual. Nairobi, Kenya: Ministry of Medical Services Republic of Kenya.
- WHO,UNICEF.Infant and Young Child Feeding Counseling: An Integrated Course. Genève Switzerland: World Health Organisation.(2006).