Every mother is aware that foods prepared for the adult are not always suitable for the young child. Most mothers, however, do not realise that foods suitable for infants can be easily prepared without going in for expensive baby foods.
If the infant does not get adequate nutrition, its growth will be affected. Often children in poor families who grow satisfactorily during the period they are brest-fed, almost stop growing during the weaning period because they do not get suitable weaning foods. When the diet is lacking in calcium or Vitamin D or both, they suffer from rickets. Sometimes their diets provide enough calories in the form of starchy foods like sago and rice, but they do not get enough of protein and other essential nutrients. This might lead to protein deficiency, kwashiorkor and Vitamin A deficiency. Children, who do not take enough food due to various reasons like non-availability or unsuitable nature of the foods, suffer from severe under-nutrition or marasmus. Good nutrition during childhood is very important for the proper development of the child.
Criteria like gain in height and weight can be applied to determine whether an infant is well-nourished or not. During the first year, the infant will grow and develop more rapidly than at any other time of life. At a weekly gain ranging from 125 to 400 grams he wills double his birth weight in the first five months. Then the weekly gain slows down to 100 to 125 grams for the remainder of the year and child’s weight will be three times its birth weight by the time he is 10 to 12 months old. The baby will increase its birth length of 30-35 cm by another 22-25 cm during the first year.
The best food for the new-born baby is mother’s milk. Fortunately even the poorly nourished mother is able to nurse her child satisfactorily at least during the first few months of life. The carbohydrate, fat, proteins and mineral contents of breast milk are not seriously affected by the diet of the mother under ordinary conditions. Under normal conditions deficiency diseases such as infantile scurvy or rickets are not found in breastfed babies.
Breast milk is free from contamination and adulteration and supplies nutrients in the correct amounts and proportions needed by the infants. It also provides an opportunity for close contact and emotional satisfaction of both mother and child. Breast milk contains immuno-proteins which protects the child to some extent against infections.
Whether the child is breast-fed or bottle-fed, the best way to make sure that the child is adequately nourished is to see whether the child is growing satisfactorily. The well-nourished infant doubles his birth weight by 3 ½ to 4 months of age.
Human milk from the well-nourished mother provides sufficient ascorbic acid for the infant’s needs. Infants who are fed high protein formula require as much as 50 mg of ascorbic acid daily in order to avoid deficiency symptoms. The allowances for thiamine, riboflavin and niacin are easily met by human milk or by standard formulae with the gradual additions of supplementary foods.