Adequate nutrition during infancy helps to build a strong base for a healthy life and overall well-being of a human being. According to the World Health Organisation: ‘Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health.’
Once the infant completes six months, it can be gradually given safe and easily digestible complementary foods (liquid and semi-solid) to meet its requirement for nutrition and body nourishment.
As recommended by WHO and UNICEF, infants should be breastfed for the initial four to six months. If at all you are planning to give complementary food to the baby, it’s best to stick to a liquid diet, between fourth and sixth month. Solid/ semi-solid foods should be started only once the baby completes six months of age. However, at the same time, breastfeeding should be continued till the infant is two years of age, and even further if required.
Food Cycle of an infant:
- Breast Feeding
- Bottle Feeding (optional)
Breast feeding is feeding the infant with the breast milk, directly from mother’s breast. Breast milk is the first and the best food for infants as it fulfils the nutrition requirement of the baby. The basic requirement is to feed them exclusively with breast milk for initial four to six months for their good growth and development. It provides adequate nutrition during this time, and is responsible for normal growth and development of the infant. Ideally, the baby should be breastfed till he/she turns two.
When we are talking about infant nutrition and breast milk, the mention of Colostrum – the yellowish tinged milk – is very vital. Colostrum is the first secretion produced by the mammary glands after the baby is delivered. It is yellow in colour, and plays a very important role in the intellectual and immunity development of the infant. It contains the highest levels of immunological and body regulating biologically active proteins – the antibodies that a baby would get only from this milk, and from nothing else in his/ her entire life span.
Unique properties of breast milk:
- Infants who have had breast milk are healthier than the babies who are bottle-fed.
- Breast milk is easily digestible and most suitable for an infant.
- Breast milk meets all the nutritional requirements of an infant.
- It provides immunity to infants, and protects them from various illnesses.
- Immunity factors/ antibodies, which are present only in the breast milk, protect infants from allergies, infections etc.
Mother’s milk is the best food for an infant. However, at times, due to certain circumstances when the mother’s milk is not available, the infant should be given a suitable alternative. If the infant is below six months of age, it should be given only milk and no other complementary food. At this juncture, bottle feeding can help to a great extent. Mentioned below are the conditions under which the baby may have to be administered bottle-feeding:
- In case the mother again becomes pregnant during the lactation period.
- If the mother is suffering from an infection or a serious illness.
- If the mother is unable to produce enough milk or suffers from other feeding-related problems.
- Death of the mother.
- If the baby is underfed, it may cry and suggest that it is hungry. Also, if the baby is underweight, the chances are high that it is being underfed.