The most critical period of a baby’s life is from being in the mother’s womb to attaining the age of two. Science has shown that the “window of opportunity” - from the start of pregnancy to the first two years of life, has a major effect on the future of a child, the community and the nation. Investment in quality maternal nutrition and early childhood nutrition can go a long way in promoting inter-generational growth as well as give a big boost to the child’s potential to contribute to the nation.
Pregnancy is a very important period, and a crucial time when you must pay attention to what you eat. Here are a few health tips for pregnant mothers:
Important nutrients for expecting mothers:
Folic Acid: A good intake of folate greatly increases the chances of your baby being born without any abnormalities. Even those planning to become pregnant must include plenty of folate-rich foods such as spinach, cabbage, cauliflower. If need be, take your physician’s advice and consume folic acid supplements.
Iron: The best sources of iron are lean meats, especially liver and kidney. Some vegetables like green, leafy vegetables, cooked beans and peas are also a good source of iron. To absorb more iron from vegetables, eat foods rich in vitamin C, or acidic foods like lemon, guava, orange or lime at the same time. Tea and coffee reduce your ability to absorb iron, so try to drink them between meals rather than at the time of eating iron-rich foods.
Calcium: Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth – of the mother and the baby. The best sources of calcium are milk and dairy products. Consider including til seeds and ragi in your diet for increasing calcium intake.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is very important both to prevent rickets in your new-born baby and to keep the teeth and bones healthy. Try to spend adequate time outdoors in the early hours of the day, especially in sunny weather. Vitamin D is produced in your skin naturally when you are exposed to sunlight.
Lactation: It’s the most crucial phase for the child’s growth and development. Breast-feeding should consume an additional 600 calories till the child attains the age of six months, and 520 extra calories thereafter till the child is one year old.
Apart from keeping in mind the above important nutrition tips, women must try their best to breastfeed the baby for the first six months. Early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding during this period ensure a healthy start to the baby’s life. It is not only the best food for the baby, it is always clean, protects the baby from diseases, makes the child more intelligent, helps make a special relationship between the mother and baby, helps parents space their children and helps mothers shed extra weight.
While mothers should ideally continue breastfeeding till the child turns two, complementary feeding is also of importance. Infants grow at a rapid rate. Complimentary feeding should start when the child is six months old. The staple cereal of the family should be used to make the first food of the infant such as suji, broken wheat, atta, ragi, millet, etc. Addition of oil and jaggery is of importance to increase the energy value of the food. One must remember that a thick porridge is more nutritious than a thin one - consistency of the meal is of prime importance. You would not want to fill the small tummy with water alone!
Mothers should include all five food groups discussed above while preparing meals for the baby. Since children have a small tummy, feed small frequent portions of a wholesome nutritious diet with the knowledge of nutrition guidelines above.
Authors: Smriti Sharma and Lakshman Sivasubramanian
1. National Guidelines on Infant and Young Child Feeding, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of Women and Child Development, Government of India, 2004
2. Nutrient requirements and Recommended Dietary Allowances for Indians, Expert Group of ICMR, National Institute of Nutrition, 2010
3. Healthy Eating during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding, World Health Organization, 2001