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The infant’s diet in the first year of life

May 9, 2017 | Nutrition

Food is a basic requirement for all living beings. It ensures all life processes, activities, growth and development. It is therefore worth saying a few words about its role in the earliest part of human growth and development.

Food primarily provides energy and building elements, while at the same time it plays a role in regulating a number of life processes. We can distinguish between macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). A healthy, balanced diet is the basis of good health and optimal growth and development. Long-lasting eating disorders in the period of early growth and development typically have permanent consequences. Protein deficiency during pregnancy (due to maternal starvation or lengthy periods of nausea and vomiting) is reflected in the development of blood vessels in the foetal brain. As a result, the blood vessels are insufficiently developed, which typically leads to more severe consequences following a stroke in adulthood. Similarly, iron deficiency in the first year prevents optimal brain development, which leads to lower intelligence quotients at school age. All of this shows that infant diet should be carefully planned in accordance with medical findings and the recommendations of expert organisations. Unfortunately, aggressive interventions into the diets of pregnant and breastfeeding women and infants are common, which increases the risk of child growth and development disorders.

In infancy, breast milk is undoubtedly the best source of nutrients. The links between breastfeeding, the contents of breast milk and current infant needs are incredibly complex. Here are some of the benefits of breastfeeding (those that are currently familiar, although much more research is probably needed): the contents and the amount of the mother’s milk adapt to the current needs of the child’s development; breast milk contains hormones which regulate the feeling of fullness of the digestive tract, which reduces the chance of adulthood obesity; breast milk contains numerous elements which affect the infant’s immune system (chemical substances, cells, immunoglobulins); breastfeeding is an important means of communication between the mother and child which contributes to optimal emotional as well as physical development. It is therefore necessary to do everything possible to ensure that breastfeeding is successful. Unfortunately, bottle feeding is still introduced far too easily (often also unjustifiably). The decision to switch to bottle feeding should be left to medical professionals and not made independently or following the advice of friends and family (however well-meaning they may be). In cases where breastfeeding is not possible, do not turn to untreated animal or plant milk; instead, use infant formula. How long should breastfeeding last? There is no single answer to this frequent question. Breastfeeding can last for years, provided it does not interfere with the child’s emotional development. It sometimes happens that the child (especially if this is an only child) remains stuck in the attachment phase (absolute emotional and physical inseparability). The mother and child retain the breastfeeding communication pattern, which prevents the process of emotional separation and independence.

Introducing other types of food to an infant’s diet

During breastfeeding or formula-feeding, do not give the child water or tea (in fact, this can be harmful). During the first months, the child drinks between 120 and 160 ml of milk per 1kg of body weight. If you use this formula to calculate the amount of milk for an adult person, you are likely to see that additional fluid is not necessary in the first months. In the case of both breast- and formula-fed children, other types of food should gradually be introduced after the sixth month (never before the fifth). Recently, many of the dogmas regarding which types of food should be introduced into the infant’s diet at which point in time have been disproved. From the sixth to the ninth month, almost all types of food may be introduced. The only exceptions are cellulose-rich food (mushrooms, watermelon, melon), drupes (stone fruit), sea food, nuts and honey. Avoid juices as they increase the chances of obesity; furthermore, it seems we are not used in evolutionary terms to drinking fluids rich in (natural) sugar. Fruit is a sufficient and optimal source of macro- and micronutrients. It is extremely important to make sure that the child’s diet is diverse and the food clean (both in the bacteriological and chemical sense). Ready-made baby purees and organic food should have precedence. Adding salt is not recommended before the 18th month (administering salt at an early age seems to be linked to high blood pressure in adulthood). Some children need a lot of time to get used to new flavours, and this should not be a source of parental frustration. The period between the 6th and 12th month should be accepted as a period of adaptation. Some children have difficulties with chunky food (they choke or feel the urge to vomit). Arm yourself with patience and try to achieve a finer texture in the food (strained food sliced into tiny pieces) until the child masters the complex acts of chewing and swallowing. After the first year, so-called transition milk formulae (available as liquid or powder) are still recommended in the second and even the third year. Not only is this type of milk specially adapted to meet infant needs, but it also guarantees impeccable cleanliness and an absence of harmful ingredients.

prof. dr. sc.  Milivoj Jovančević

prof. dr. sc. Milivoj Jovančević

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