In order for a baby in the womb to develop properly, the expectant mother needs to consume the proper nutrients including vitamins and minerals. Once a baby is born, those same nutrients are essential for proper development. Lack of nutrients during the first few years of life can leave a child with a lifetime of consequences. By following simple nutritional guidelines, parents can ensure that their children will be able to grow to their full potential.
The genes that a child inherits from his or her parents will determine if he or she is tall, short, thin, or stocky. Those genes will interact with his or her environment to establish nutrition, health, and well-being (Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R., p. 145). For example, a child of a stocky build, who has parents that over-feed him or her and who do not offer healthy food choices, could easily become obese. He or she could also develop health problems, like diabetes, that are associated with being obese. This is a growing problem among American youth.
Under nutrition during the first three years of life, especially during the first year, can have as many, if not worse, consequences as overweight or obese children. Maltreatment is a very common form of child abuse. In these cases, an infant or child is denied essential components for proper cognitive, physical, cognitive, and emotional development (Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R., p. 170). Proper nutrition is a key element to all levels of development during early childhood.
Dr. Robert Needlman, a pediatrician, wrote an article for American Family Physician in 2001 about a case that he had experienced in his office. A four-month old girl was brought into her well-child visit with declining weight gain. Her weight had dropped off of the weight growth curve (Needlman, R., 2001). Upon questioning the mother about the young girl's diet, it was discovered that the parents were not mixing her formula correctly and she was calorie deprived. This also caused her length to stop growing as well.
Dr. Needlman corrected the problem and the girl did start to gain weight, however the calorie deprivation took place during a critical period in infant growth and may lead to further cognitive developmental problems. He recommended her to an early intervention agency for evaluation (Needlman, R., 2001). The calories and nutrients that she was lacking for a few months may cause her great problems as she continues to grow, and intervention for both her and the parents is an important factor for progressive development.
Breast or Bottle?
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A child will grow more in his or her first years than he or she will ever grow again. Especially during the first few months of life when a child will double his or her weight and length (Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R., p. 145). Proper nutrition during these critical periods is essential for proper development. Without the proper combination as essential foods, physical, cognitive, and emotional development may suffer.
For the first year of a child's life, he or she will mostly depend on breast milk or infant formula as the main component to their diet. In the past, there has been controversy about breast milk versus formula for infant consumption (Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R., p. 146-147). There are varying views about the topic and they have changed as times have changed. Currently it is recommend that infants consume breast milk for optimum development.
Sometimes it is not possible for an infant to drink breast milk. In these cases, an iron-fortified infant formula, that is rich in the proper vitamins and minerals can be used as a substitute. It is important that the formula also be of a cow milk base or a soy base (Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R., p. 147). The proper combination of nutrients is very important in the growth and development of young children.
For example, children who do not have an iron -fortified diet during the first year of life, may experience iron deficiency. Iron deficiency during the first year makes it more likely that these children will develop problems in adulthood that are linked to the deficiency (Beard, J., 2008). Iron levels can be checked with a blood test, which most pediatricians will order regularly during the first year.
A lack of iron during early childhood may significantly delay the development of the central nervous system and may alter some areas of the brain (Beard, J., 2008). The effects of iron deficiency, depending on when they occur, may not always be reversible. A child may suffer from lasting effects, including developmental delays. It is something that needs to be of concern.
When a child reaches 6 months old, an introduction of solid foods can begin, however it is imperative that breast-milk or formula still remains the main source of nutrient consumption. It is not recommended that infants younger than 6 months old receive solid food as this can interfere with digestion development (Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R., p. 148). It is also not recommended that children under the age of one year receive direct cow's milk as this can also interfere with digestion development. The introduction of solid foods is a slow process, as foods are introduced one at a time.
A young child's sense of taste develops in the womb. Smells and different foods that the expectant mother experiences may be transmitted through amniotic fluid. Infants have a natural preference for sweet tasting foods and will avoid tastes that are sour, bitter, or salty (Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R., p. 158). It is theorized that infants that are exposed to healthy foods through breast milk may be more adapt to consume healthy foods when solid foods are introduced.
The introduction of solid foods is the perfect time to shape and develop eating habits in children. A young child will often reject vegetables that are not sweet tasting, however just because a child rejects a food does not mean that the food should not be introduced again. It may take time for certain tastes to develop. Foods should also be offered one at a time and for several days in a row to make sure a child does not have a food allergy.
A child that eats healthy during the first few years of life is more likely to carry those eating habits with them as they get older. There are many consequences that can arise from too little or too much food, whatever the source may be. It is necessary that parents are aware of the proper nutrients that their children are to receive. Education can go a long way in preventing many problems that may arise. With a combination of the proper supports, many children will grow up and develop just as they should and lead healthy, active, and fulfilled lives.
Beard, J. L. (2008). Why Iron Deficiency is Important in Infant Development. The Journal of Nutrition 138, 12. Retrieved from Research Library database on October 13, 2009.
Needlman, R. (2001). Failure to thrive: Parental neglect or well-meaning ignorance? American Family Physician Vol 63, Iss. 9; p. 1867. Retrieved from Research Library database on October 13, 2009.
Papalia. D., Olds, S., and Feldman, R. ( 2008). A Child's World: Infancy through Adolescence (11th ed.). McGraw-Hill: New York.
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