New Delhi: The first two years in a child’s life plays a vital role as it lays the foundation for optimal growth and development. From birth to two years of age, it is essential to provide a diet that meets the nutritional requirement of a child and aids in the physical and mental growth of an infant. Over the months, the diet has to be modified, keeping in mind the requirement of energy, protein, vitamins, iron, and calcium, among other nutrients. Since a child’s stomach has limited capacity as compared to an adult’s, so an infant cannot consume much at one meal hence it is pivotal to prepare a meal that provides both micro nutrients (vitamins, iron, minerals) and macro nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats) to a child or in other words is nutrient-dense.
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In the first 180 days that is from birth to six months, the nutritional need of a child is met from exclusive breastfeeding so early initiation of breast milk which is the best food for the infant is the first and important recommendation. For the first six months breastfeed provides an optimal amount of nutrition and is a right mix of all the nutrients at a right amount that the growing infant needs. If breastfeed is provided on demand and done frequently and exclusively, all the nutritional requirements are met. Even the baby’s water requirement is met through breastmilk as foremilk (milk at the beginning of feeding) has more water and hindmilk (milk at the end of a feeding) has fats, says Dr Suparna Ghosh-Jerath, Additional Professor and Head Community Nutrition at Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH – Delhi), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).
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While for the first six months a baby should only be fed breastmilk, post that complementary feeding should be initiated without weaning the baby off breastmilk. Breastfeeding has to be continued for two years and beyond; after six months it needs to be complemented with adequate, safe and proper food and liquid to meet the additional nutrition needs of the young growing infant.
In the case of complementary feeding, the three keywords are adequate, safe and proper. Adequate means the food being provided to the child should be sufficient in terms of quantity. Many mothers say, ‘I do give him/her a spoonful of daal while eating or give rice water or pulses water’. You may start complementary feeding with 2-3 tablespoon foods of semisolid homogenous gruel but a spoonful of legumes or pulses water is not sufficient enough. You need to gradually increase the quanity of food offered to the child to at least half of 250 ml cup/bowl of pulses and cereal mix or other homogenous gruel. Also, quality of this homogenous semisolid meal should be adequate and to ensure that, the meal should be diverse with a variety of food groups likes cereals, pulses, vegetables, oil added in one gruel, suggests Dr Suparna.
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The food should be safe as it should be prepared by following principles of hygiene and over processed foods need to be avoided.
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