Everyone requires needs a balanced diet to maintain optimal healthy especially infants. They require a constant supply of essential nutrients and energy, in the right proportions.
A proper diet plays a very important role in infancy. Some of the advantages include :
- It helps them maintain healthy weight gain and reduces the chance of them developing certain conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes
- It promotes optimal physical growth and development
- It reduces their risk of developing certain infections
- It helps repair and replaces worn-out tissues
- It is important for cognitive development and critical thinking, even in adulthood.
Therefore, the neonatal period is crucial in the growth of a baby, not just physically but also neurologically. It is during this period that important nutrients are utilized for the optimal development of the baby’s brain and nervous system.
There are several ways and methods newborns can get the nutrients required to promote all these health functions, but the most recommended source is breast milk from the mother.
Why Do Newborns Need Sufficient Nutrients?
Babies grow rapidly during the first year of life. In fact, they can triple their initial birth weight within the first year of life. There is also immense development of the baby’s physical outlook and brain function. For this to happen, the baby needs sufficient nutrients gotten from the mother’s breast milk or non-human milk formulas (milk from cows, goats, or sheep, and soy-based products).
During the neonatal stage, the digestive tract is still immature, with the stomach having only a limited capacity, both in size and function. This means an infant’s digestive system can only digest easily digestible food of good quality in small but frequent servings. Newborns should be fed frequently throughout the day to provide them with all the nutrients needed. Moreover, note that the smaller the baby, the more nutrients it needs, and consequently, the faster it grows.
A baby’s brain and spinal cord do not stop developing at birth but rather continues to develop at the early stage of the baby’s life. It is expected that there is an adequate supply of nutrients at this stage to promote the development of these organs and neuronal connections. Not providing these nutrients may lead to your child achieving less than their maximum intellectual potential.
Several nutrients are vital for the optimum development of the central nervous system. One of the most important being long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids like omega-3 fatty acids. These are specifically utilized during the development of the brain and eyes. Other important nutrients for the development of the central nervous system include iron, several complex carbohydrates, the B vitamins, and several other nutritional elements.
What Amount of Daily Macronutrients Do Newborns Need to Grow?
Even as infants require large amounts of nutrients to fuel their growth, excess amounts of these nutrients may overburden their immature organs. Let’s take a look at the recommended daily nutrients needed by infants for optimal growth:
Healthy infants should consume about 2 to 3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Babies below six months should consume about 9 grams of protein per day, while older infants ranging from six to twelve months should consume about 11 grams of protein daily.
Proteins help repair and replace worn-out body tissues and a very important for carrying out various metabolic processes. They are essential for the production of hormones, antibodies, enzymes, and other important biomolecules.
The source of protein should be seriously considered, because of the problem of indigestion. Whey protein is a good source of protein and is easily digestible. Breast milk supplies all the protein needed by an infant for the first six months of life.
Lipids are one of the most important classes of food for a growing infant. They are necessary for proper neuronal, physical, and cognitive development. It also helps in providing good cardiac function, helps insulate the infant, and promotes the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
There are different kinds of fats, saturated and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated can be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. All these different types of fats play specific roles in the body.
The total daily requirement of lipids is about 30g per day. Ideally, fats should provide 50% of the daily energy requirements of a growing infant. 75% of the unsaturated fats in breast milk can be absorbed, making breast milk a great source of lipids for infants.
Carbohydrates may be simple sugar or complex sugars, and are made up of various combinations of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They provide energy for the growing infant to carry out its normal metabolic and physical activities.
It is recommended that infants below six months consume 60g of carbohydrates per day, while infants between six to twelve months consume 95g of carbohydrates daily.
Fiber refers to indigestible carbohydrates and is an important part of the diet of older infants. Refined sugars should be avoided in infants since they have been linked to an increased risk of deceit certain diseases such as obesity or type 2 diabetes mellitus in the future.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Virtually every protein in the body is a combination of several amino acids along a chain. Nine amino acids are not synthesized within the body, hence making them essential.
They are lysine, arginine, leucine, isoleucine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, and tryptophan. These amino acids must adequately be present in the diet of the newborn every day.
What Vitamins and Minerals Do Newborns Need to Develop Well?
Vitamins and minerals are referred to as micronutrients because they are required by the body in small quantities. However, they play various essential roles in the proper growth and development of children during infancy.
Vitamins that are essential for newborns include:
- The fat-soluble vitamins which include vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin D, and vitamin K. These vitamins can be stored within the body tissues, especially the liver. Proper absorption of these vitamins requires adequate amounts of dietary fat. Therefore, infants with conditions that lead to poor absorption of dietary fats or who do not consume enough dietary fats may be prone to deficiency of these vitamins.
- The water-soluble vitamins are the B vitamin complex and vitamin C. These are not typically stored within the body and must therefore be consumed daily to prevent deficiencies.
Asides from the vitamins, minerals are also a very important part of an infant’s diet. Some important minerals include:
Do Newborns Need Additional Micronutrient Supplementation?
Full-term newborns generally born healthy to healthy mothers are rarely deficient in any vitamins or minerals, and hence should not be given additional micronutrient supplements. The reason for this is because during pregnancy the baby gets all the necessary micronutrients from the mother. Additional supplementation may even be toxic to the infant.
However, in some cases (such as dysfunctional placenta, a prematurely born baby, or an inadequate intake of micronutrients by the mother during pregnancy) several of these nutrients may have been unavailable to the neonate in utero and a resultant deficiency of these vitamins.
What Micronutrient Deficiencies Are Common Among Infants?
Though micronutrient deficiencies are rare among infants, here are some of the commoner ones.
Vitamin K deficiency
Vitamin K can be easily deficient in newborns because vitamin K is not transferred from mother to child through the placenta. Also, it is found in very small amounts in breast milk (babies exclusively breastfed are at a higher risk of vitamin K deficiency) and the immature liver of newborns have little capabilities in utilizing Vitamin K. Vitamin K deficiency can cause bleeding as vitamin K is an important factor necessary for blood clotting. So it is important to give prophylactic IV injections of the vitamin to increase availability and prevent a potential deficiency.
Vitamin D stored by the infant gotten from the mother in utero may not be enough, as vitamin D is not readily available in the baby’s meals (including breast milk) and the baby does not have prime access to sunlight required for the synthesis of vitamin D. An infant must receive oral vitamin D supplements, a few drops every day for a given period of time to reduce its risk of developing rickets.
Premature infants are at a high risk of being deficient in vitamin E. They should be administered 30mg of the vitamin daily. But care should be taken to prevent giving the vitamin in excess, as it could result in toxicity.
Iron is an important micronutrient that is also deficient in breast milk. Therefore infants should be supplied with iron-fortified food, especially older infants. This can help prevent deficiency of the crucial mineral.
Energy Requirements Among Infants
In the weeks following birth, a full-term baby will need a specific amount of warmth to prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and fussiness of the baby.
About 250-335 kJ per kilogram of body weight per day is required during the first week. In the week following birth, it will need about 335-420 kJ per kilogram of body weight per day. During subsequent weeks, the infant may require about 420-500 kJ per kilogram of body weight per day.
Therefore it is obvious that infant nutrition is highly important and should be taken quite seriously by all caregivers. The benefits are numerous and the consequences of failing to do so may be dire. Remember to seek medical attention if you suspect that your infant has any form of nutritional deficiency.