By Dr Vaidehi Dande
As parents, kids are ones first priority, and all well-meaning parents are willing to go to any length to facilitate their child’s optimal growth and development. However, most of us would be surprised to know that much of this development starts before a baby is even born. In fact, the foundation is laid with the parents’ decision to have a child. Right from the day the sperm fertilizes the ovum, the foundations of child’s future are laid!
Thus, the “First 1000 Days” – comprising of the nine months of pregnancy and the first two years of child ‘s life- are like unmoulded clay which can turn into a beautiful work of art if moulded with care and tenderness or into a messy ball of mud with no chance of repair. This duration of 1000 days marks a period of rapid physical growth and accelerated mental development. Infact much of the human brain growth occurs in the first 3 years of life. Proper care and management during this period pave a way for lifelong health and wellbeing. Each day in this critical period is important and influences the way a baby develops, grows, and learns. Hence, optimal environment during the first 1000 days helps in gifting your baby a better future.
During pregnancy, right from the time a woman conceives everything that a woman consumes, or inhales is passed to the foetus. This follows that it is imperative that a prospective mother eats healthy and balanced diet, stays hydrated and both parents refrain from smoking, alcohol, or illicit drug consumption as well as tobacco chewing. Besides, it is also important that pregnant mother does regular exercise and is in a positive state of mental health.
In the first 2 years of life, baby’s brain is very active and provides a window of opportunity for parents to enhance the child’s cognitive growth. For achieving this apart from good nutrition, child needs to feel safe, special, and confident. It needs guidance and exposure to diverse and stimulating environment. There are some interventions which are recommended to achieve holistic growth of the child during this period. First and fore most in this is exclusive breast feeding -which means that a new-born baby should be fed with only mother’s milk for the first 6 months. It has all the nutrients and protective factors to keep baby healthy in the first 6 months of life.
Second is complementary feeding which deals with introduction of solid food to the infant. The most ideal time for the ‘annaprashan’ is when baby turns 6 month. Not only the timing but also the quality and composition of these feeds are important to guarantee adequate nourishment for the growing infant. Breast feeding should be continued along with complementary feeding well into the second year. Care should be taken that the child is fed with a diet replete with all food groups namely cereals, pulses or animal proteins, dairy, green vegetables, fruits, and oils.
Thirdly, timely immunisation against life threatening diseases should be ensured during childhood. Effective vaccines are available against dangerous infections like tetanus, diphtheria, polio, whooping cough, hepatitis A and B, measles, typhoid, tuberculosis, pneumonia and meningitis and children should be protected against these deadly infections.
Fourth, is growth monitoring by checking the weight, height and head circumference and developmental milestones so that problems can be identified early, and intervention can be started.
Fifth, is stimulation of the growing brain with age-appropriate toys, books, stories, physical activities, song, stories and allowing them to explore their surroundings. Use of television and mobile phones for entertainment or for feeding is not recommended. Sixth is micronutrient supplementation with vitamins A and D, iron supplementation and zinc supplementation during diarrhoeal episodes. All these simple but crucial measures if diligently followed during the first 1000 days of life can make a major difference in the overall well being of children in early years and will guarantee an intelligent, healthy, and happy generation next.
(The author is Child Specialist and Neonatologist, Symbiosis Hospital, Mumbai. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)