( By Dr Tejinder Singh )

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A full term baby is in the position to suck immediately after the delivery- therefore as soon as the mother has recovered from the rigors of labor the baby should be put to breast. During this time, a thick yellow liquid called colostrum is secreted from the breasts, which provides a lot of energy to the baby and also protects it from infections. The suckling movements by the baby help in augmenting milk production. You will appreciate that putting the baby to breast as soon as possible is crucial for later success of breast-feeding. Even where delivery has been following an operation, the baby should be fed as above.

In many communities, there is a practice to give water, honey, cow's milk, ghutti, or similar substances to the baby before putting him to breast. Others give a bottle- feed for initial 2-3 days. There is no scientific basis for these practices and they may harm the baby.

The baby should be exclusively breast fed for first 3 months. Many mothers tend to give one or two bottle feeds during this time on the mistaken belief that otherwise the baby will not accept the bottle later on. This belief is totally unfounded. ? You should appreciate that the poison will be poison whether given once a day or five times a day. Breast-feeding has many advantages. It provides the right amount of milk of the right composition at the right temperature. It eliminates the need for repeatedly boiling the bottles especially at night or when you are going out. It protects the baby against diarrhea, pneumonia and other infections during early life. It has also been shown to protect high blood pressure and heart attacks during later life. It increases the emotional bonding between mother and child and also helps the mother in losing the extra weight gained during pregnancy.

There is a belief among the educated class that breast-feeding will spoil their "figure". There is no basis for this- a mother who is breast-feeding regains her pre-pregnancy weight more rapidly than the other who is not. Use of a well fitting brassiere will help in maintaining the shape and the figure.

Most babies require a feed every 2 to 3 hours but if any baby demands it early, it shouldn't be denied. Another point that you should remember is that the baby cries because of many reasons other than hunger. That the baby cries even after a feed should be no excuse to shift him to bottle. Adequate weight gain in a baby points to adequacy in breast milk.

In certain very rare situations the doctor may advice you to withhold breast feeds. In such situations cow or buffalo's milk is the next best and one does not have to use costly powder which does not offer any distinct advantage. Most babies including newborns can be fed using katori and spoon and as far as possible use of bottle should be avoided. Remember the old saying" Break the bottle and spare the child".

By about 3 months of age, the baby should receive supplementary semi-solid foods. Khichdi, egg, potatoes, banana, dal or rice can be used according to availability and choice. Tinned weaning foods are highly expensive and offer no distinct advantages. The diet of the baby should be gradually increased and almost anything cooked in the house (except peppers and spices) can be given to the baby. Soups, costly fruits, almonds etc. are not essential dietary elements. By one year of age the baby should be taking almost half and by the age of 3 years almost the same amount of diet as his mother is taking.

Routine supplements of tonics and vitamins are not necessary for most babies. However six monthly administration of vitamins A and D and daily administration of iron will help the baby in maintaining good health.

Sometimes the baby may fall sick or have diarrhea. In such situations do not try to reduce the die of the baby. Similarly you may have heard of hot and cold foods. There is no scientific basis for such classifications and the diet of the baby should not be restricted because of these beliefs.

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