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Babies' Development and the Role of Food

Written and reviewed by
Fellowship In Neonatology, MRCPCH(UK), Diploma In Child Health (DCH), MBBS
Pediatrician, Delhi  •  33 years experience
Babies' Development and the Role of Food

It is often stated by doctors that a child's brain and body develop through good nutrition, and this starts even before they have been conceived. If you are planning a baby, then it is a must to tune your body for infant nutrition, as healthy growth of the brain in a child begins much before conception. For example, folic acid intake should be started 14 weeks before conception. Folic acid is considered to be helpful in the early functioning of the brain.

By the time a baby is born, already three quarters of the cells of the brain are formed and the quarter which is left is formed by the first birthday. As soon as children reach 3 years, they have a brain which is as big as an adult's, and when children are growing, the neurons of the brain grow and develop with them. Thus a poor diet can hamper the growth of children, and also affect their ability to process information and learn. This becomes worse if the iron levels in the body dip below the required levels.

Iodine shortage also leads to irreversible motor and cognitive developments in the child. Similarly, DHA which is considered to be an essential fatty acid in the child development, if compromised, can lead to learning problems. It is known that DHA is the key component for the intensive production of the synapse which is important in the initial years of life for development and learning. Other nutrients like zinc, folic acid and choline all play a role in the initial functioning of the brain.

Feeding a variety of food to the baby is important as they help in the development, but certain foods are a must. These are:

  • Breast milk: As per dieticians, a baby can only digest breast milk or formula milk in the initial months. Babies should be breastfed for the first six months as it has the basic nutrients required by a baby, and also gives protection against allergies, digestive diseases and infections. Breast milk also has iron which is crucial for the development of the baby.
  • Iron rich cereals: Babies can be fed solid food by 4-6 months. If a baby can sit without support and shows tongue thrust reflex, then he or she is ready for solids. Starting solids with the introduction of cereals or rice cereals is good, as they can be easily digested. It can also be diluted with the breast milk or formula. As these cereals are rich in iron, they are good for the development of the baby. A diet deficient in iron leads to delayed talking and walking of a child.
  • Fruit and vegetable: A good time to introduce vegetables and fruits is when the baby is 6-7 months. These foods are loaded with minerals and vitamins which provide different textures and tastes to the baby. Carrots mashed and strained, along with beans, apples, bananas, peaches and peas and pears can be given to the baby. These can be boiled or pureed or mashed for the baby for easy consumption.
  • Pureed Food: These foods are generally the meats which can be given from 8-9 months. Meats like lamb, chicken and liver contain iron. The iron of the meats is easily absorbed, as compared to the iron in plants. For the maximum absorption of the iron in the meat, it should be served with vitamin C, some fruits, cantaloupe or broccoli. It is believed that vitamin C boosts the absorption of iron.

Though there are a number of environmental and genetic factors which effect the development of a child, food is one of the most important factors. Thus, it should be kept in mind that good food leads to a happy, healthy and a well developing baby. Start from the beginning and focus on the right portions to ensure the health of your baby.

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