In my practice, I will often get questions from new mothers about proper infant nutrition – what should they feed them, bottle vs. breast milk, etc. Many are simply not sure how to go about feeding their children, believing that they can merely rely on formula and baby food for an indeterminate amount of time. For these new, undereducated mothers, I feel it is necessary to provide them with quality information on the importance of infant nutrition, and some sources to back up this data. I also want to provide them with resources they can use to expand their knowledge and health literacy as need be; it is absolutely vital that their children benefit from EBP regarding breastfeeding and infant nutrition.
Infant nutrition is thought to be one of the biggest issues for overall health in an individual throughout their life span. The period of time between their sixth month and their first birthday is thought to be the most important period for infant nutrition in a baby's life. Children, and individuals of all age groups, are eating more often and they are taking in more fat, sodium and saturated fats than are recommended. There are a number of factors that contribute to this trend, including the changes in family makeup that have happened over the past few decades. In the 1960s, most children lived with two parents, fewer women with children were working, and most meals were eaten at home. However, by the 1990s, only 70% of children lived with both parents, 60% of women were out working with children, and nearly a third of the meals eaten by the family was out (Melmed, 2007). It seems as though the main problem is convenience; there is simply not enough time anymore to prepare meals for everyone inside the home, especially if they are not going to be healthy.
There are currently a number of disturbing trends regarding infant nutrition in this country. Because infants are not being fed as well as they should be, there has been a huge increase in iron deficiency anemia cases in children. It currently affects 25% of all infants around the world, which includes about half of all children in developing countries. Not only that, 10% of toddlers in the United States who are 1 to 2 years old, suffer from this deficiency (CDC, 2011). Good nutrition is a huge issue in this country; 30% of children under five years of age around the world are thought to have stunted growth as a result of malnutrition (WHO, 2010). For a variety of reasons, many children around the world are not nourished properly, leading to terrible consequences like stunted growth, early onset of developmental problems, and low weight for their height. If women can learn how to properly breastfeed and feed their children, 1.5 million children under the age of five could be saved every year (WHO, 2010).
The current statistics on infant nutrition by the World Health Organization support the claims that infant nutrition is vitally important to the development of a child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that "every infant and child has the right to good nutrition" (WHO, 2011). Of the children under five years old who have diseases, 35% of them were caused by undernutrition, making it important that infant and young child feeding is taken with care. When a child is nourished properly in their first two years of life, their risk for chronic diseases and morbidity and mortality does down greatly. According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, their recommendations are to start breastfeeding within one hour of birth, to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, and then gradually start to introduce complementary foods that are nutritious and safe for the child to eat.
When figuring out what to feed your child, a solid understanding of infant nutrition is important. When a baby is born, they must be exclusively breastfed for the first six months; It is also recommended that you start breastfeeding within an hour of childbirth. After your child is 6 months old, you may feel free to introduce complementary , healthy foods that are nutritious and safe for the child to eat. These include mashed vegetables, soft solids, and more. Vitamin-supplemented foods are also acceptable, and encouraged to ensure proper infant nutrition. Find a good mix between fruits and vegetables. Whenever possible, use breastmilk in breastfeeding; baby formula, while an acceptable stopgap, does not provide nearly as much nutrition for a baby as their mother’s natural milk (USDA). Proper breastfeeding has many benefits, including protection from gastrointestinal infections and reducing overall infant mortality (CDC). A number of educated studies have been released that shows the importance of varying types of nutrition in infants. Research has shown that it is important for formula milk to be as close as possible to human breast milk, in order to get nutrients and vitamins most effectively to the child (Heine et al., 1991).
Given the need to create and facilitate easier methods to breastfeed, initiatives such as these need to be increased, encouraging mothers to secure safe areas in all aspects of their lives to breastfeed and offer as many windows as possible to do so is vital. This can be accomplished through increasingly pervasive and progressive breastfeeding education and legislation, maintaining policies on all levels, from local to federal. With the help of these policies and more, mothers will have greater education and freedom to breastfeed, thereby improving their child's nutrition.
The provision of the PPACA which requires employers to allow breastfeeding breaks for their employees is a wonderful first step in creating greater accessibility to breastfeeding in all areas of a woman's life. Initiatives such as the Business Case for Breastfeeding and others should continue, with greater parameters and more ambitious targets, to make sure that more businesses and health care centers are prepared for the various challenges and requirements of breastfeeding. The expansion of scope of the Healthy People objectives, for 2020 or a future decade, would also help to place pressure on interested parties (the CDC, businesses and agricultural interests) to promote breastfeeding in young mothers. The current direction being taken by legislators and health care professionals is correct, and is working; it just needs to work faster in order to get through to more people. By creating better outreach and opportunities for women to learn about breastfeeding, and to train others on how to make their workplaces or facilities more welcoming to the practice, this sort of availability will increase breastfeeding rates substantially, as well as directly make a positive impact on our children's health.
Center for Disease Control. (2011). 2010 Pediatric Surveillance - Summary of Health Indicators Children Aged <5 Years. CDC.gov. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/pednss/pednss_tables/pdf/national_table2.pdf.
Heine, W.E., Klein, P.D., and Reeds, P.J. (1991). The importance of a-lactalbumin in infant nutrition. J. Nutr. 121: 277-283.
Melmed, M. (2007). Statement on Income Security and Family Support - US House of Representatives. Zero to Three Policy Center. http://www.zerotothree.org/public- policy/infant-toddler-policy-issues/11-14-07_children_s_health_testimony.pdf.
World Health Organization. (2012). Infant and young child feeding. WHO.int. Fact sheet No. 341. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs342/en/index.html.