Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh: Spring 2022

Page 36

Pregnancy & Early Years

Start as You Mean to Go On


xperts agree that the first three years of life – the months of pregnancy and the first couple of years of childhood – have an enormous impact on health throughout life. Because of the high prevalence of low birth weight and undernutrition in childhood in developing countries, the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals include the health of mothers, on the principle that during pregnancy and lactation, the child is completely dependent upon the mother for nutrients. There are all sorts of myths around eating during pregnancy – the most commonly heard one is that you have to ‘eat for two’. But there is some truth in this. Weight gain during pregnancy is natural, and though it has its own health risks, it’s a mistake to starve oneself during pregnancy - instead the dietary changes of pregnancy should be met with tailored solutions.

WEIGHT GAIN Excessive weight gain during pregnancy can impact maternal health, pregnancy outcomes such as preterm delivery or low birth weight, and child health after delivery. While all women require increased calories during pregnancy, recommended weight gain will differ depending on pre-pregnancy weight status; underweight women should gain more weight than normal weight women 36 | Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh

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while overweight, and obese women should gain less. It’s important to realise that inadequate maternal weight gain could potentially harm the health of both mother and child, since calories are required to support proper development in the womb. Conversely, obesity and excess weight gain can increase the risk of stillbirth, preterm birth, birth defects, a large baby, and childhood obesity. The vitamin and mineral needs of a pregnant woman can vary greatly between pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and lactation, but a carefully chosen diet can meet recommendations for most nutrients, though supplements such as folic acid are usually prescribed. Other frequently supplemented nutrients include the fatty acids DHA and EPA, vitamin D, and iodine, so supplying foods rich in these can have positive health outcomes.

INTAKE For optimal infant health, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, but this means that the required intake for many nutrients becomes even greater than during pregnancy. The concentration of nutrients in breast milk will vary depending on how much the mother is eating in her diet. For instance vitamins, minerals such as iodine, and salts such as choline,

which are essential for infant cognitive development, may not be delivered in sufficient quantities to the baby if the mother’s diet is inadequate. The lesson is that the importance of proper nutrition does not stop after birth. Complementary (non-breastfeeding) feeding practices after the first six months support the health of the young child and convey long-term health benefits. For example, adequate calories can help manage weight gain during the first years of life, while lowering the risk of childhood obesity from overfeeding. It’s a good idea to choose foods rich in Vitamin A and iron, which will help support proper development of the child’s vision, immune system, and physical growth. In developing countries, WHO, UNICEF, and others also recommend supplementation or

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Lifelong health can be affected by nutrition in pregnancy and early years. So what are the essentials for mother and baby diet?

11/02/2022 16:57

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