Four crucial years for baby

lifestyle July 10, 2012 00:00


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Mothers should eat nutritiously throughout that period to ensure a long, healthy life for their kids

It’s crucial for mothers to eat properly for their babies’ first 1,500 days, not only to assist the child’s growth and cognitive development but also to safeguard against non-communicable disease (NCD) later in life, from cardiovascular and lung ailments to diabetes and cancer.

That was the advice of a paediatrics expert at a recent Bangkok seminar, “Start the Motherhood Journey with Healthy Nutrition”.

Professor Dr Haschke of the Medical University of Vienna, who chairs the Swiss-based Nestle Nutrition Institute, was joined by Professor Dr Erika Isolauri of Finland’s University of Turku at the event moderated by paediatrician Dr Sirinuch Chomtho of Chulalongkorn University.

They recommended proper nutrition throughout the baby’s first four years, from the moment the woman knows she’s pregnant – and earlier if the pregnancy is planned – until she stops breastfeeding the child, a practice they believe should continue as long as possible, until around age three.

“Poor nutrition before birth, particularly a low supply of vitamin B12 and folate, is associated with babies’ low birth weight,” Haschke pointed out. “Later in life these same children are at risk of becoming obese. The genes of the malnourished foetus are programmed to store all the energy in the body, which increases the risk of obesity and associated metabolic diseases during adulthood.”

Similarly, it’s essential to get enough docosahexanoic acid (DHA), which is related to cardiovascular and mental health. He recommended DHA supplements during and after pregnancy.

“If the baby gets a lot of protein from the old-style infant formulas, he could be at risk of childhood obesity, especially if the mother is obese. Breastfeeding and the new low-protein formulas can protect infants from excessive weight gain, though.”

Haschke said infants at high risk of developing allergies – if there’s a family history, for example – should be breastfed exclusively or receive a hypoallergenic formula that will “program their immune system the right way” and reduce their risk by 30 to 50 per cent.

Dr Isolauri, who heads a research group on nutrition and allergies, said the immune system’s development depends on stimulation from bacteria that must be present in the intestines. That stems in turn from genetics, natural childbirth, the immediate environment and early feeding.

What the mother eats thus becomes a key factor, since it affects the breast milk.