‘Nutrition influences child’s physical, mental, emotional, scholastic performance’
Dimapur, Sep. 22 (EMN): The first two years of a child’s life is crucial as maximum physical, mental and emotional growth takes place during this period, and if proper care isn’t given during this critical period, the child will be forever stunted in his or her growth and development, said child specialist Dr. Apong Longchar.
The child will struggle to close this gap later on and will struggle throughout life with all types of health issues that will negatively impact his or her productivity and achievements as an adult, informed Longchar, a child specialist at Nikos Hospital and Research Centre in Dimapur.
Nutrition, he said, plays one of the most important roles in this crucial developmental stage.
‘How we start feeding our children from day one is very important. Most of us fumble with this and the right start at the right time with the right food is very important,’ he noted.
As per the paediatrician, there are many factors which influence the overall development and growth of a child in the first two years but nutrition plays the most important part and it not only helps in the growth of the body but builds the immune system as well which keeps the child healthy.
“Nutrition directly and indirectly influences the physical, mental, emotional and scholastic performance of a child. A child who keeps falling sick is usually emotionally unstable and mentally stressed which may affect his mental health later on. To give proper nutrition during this crucial period, the right start with the right food at the right time is very important,” he asserted.
Complementary feeding, he said, was the process of introducing food to babies after six months while still continuing to breastfeed. After six months, breast milk alone is insufficient to meet the growing needs of the child. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) also recommend that complementary feeding starts for a child as soon as she or he completes six months, he informed.
Some start giving solid foods to babies as early as one month of age and some children are given no food or only one or two kinds of food even beyond one year. According to research, the doctor said that starting solid food too early is not good as a child may choke on it. Moreover, a child has an immature digestive system and cannot get enough nutrition due to poor digestion and kidneys are still not developed to handle the load. If a child starts early on solid food, it may lead to obesity and heart problems in adult life, he added.
Delay in starting foods also leads to energy gap and deficiency of energy protein, vitamins and minerals, deficiency in iron and zinc. A child will gradually miss reaching targeted milestones. A child may not progress from breastfeeding to eating solid foods and may refuse to eat food of different varieties which may lead to food acceptance problems, it was informed.
‘After six months, the child’s digestive system can handle all types of food. To begin with, all kinds of food that an adult eats like cereals, vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, egg, to name a few can be offered to a baby,’ the doctor said, adding that ‘the baby can eat and digest all types of food without problem. As far as food items are concerned, there should be no restrictions on the types of food given to a child, he added.
The only restriction for a child is not to introduce sugar and salt too early as the required salt and sugar is present in the natural food.
“In Nagaland, the staple food is rice, so a parent can start with rice or fruit, meat to name a few and it’s important to maintain consistency. Also, making food too soft makes it more watery and decreases the nutritional value although it may fill up the stomach but with less nutrition. If the food is too thick then the child will struggle to swallow or choke.
“Some babies may take time to learn to eat more thick food, so introduce soft food and gradually increase the consistency. Every baby is different but our objective should be to give as much thick food as possible and later on eat the same food as adults. Let a child adapt to a food fed by maintaining consistency as it is the first time, babies need time to adapt to the taste, texture and consistency of food items. Introduce one food at a time and give only that for two-three days, introduce new food every two-three days,” he shared.
A child in the age group of six to eight months should be given meals two-three times a day along with breastfeeding, as a child has a small stomach capacity. A nine to 12 months child should be given meals three to four times a day with breastfeeding and snacks one-two times a day; a one-year-old and above child can be given meals four times a day with breastfeeding along with snacks one-two times a day, the doctor shared.