( By Dr. H.K.Bakhru )

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The most prevalent of all forms of disease are those of infancy and early childhood. The chief cause of a very large number of these diseases lies in faulty feeding habits of modern age. Unless this is realised by parents, there can be little hope of rescue for their children from the various ailments suffered by them.

The young baby is fed in a wrong way, even before its birth. In the womb, the child depends for its nourishment on what the mother supplies to it. And the modern mother generally eats denatured and demineralised foods. This deprives her growing unborn child of the invaluable mineral elements it needs, for proper bone and body building. The child thus enters into the world as a potentially unhealthy baby.

It is therefore of utmost importance that the mother should know as to what foods she needs for her own health as well as for the health of her child. She should understand that rickets, scurvy, whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, tonsillitis, dental caries and all the other diseases of childhood are merely the result of refined foods of today, which are deficient in organic mineral salts, but excessive in refined sugar, starchy foods, proteins and fats. She should realise the invaluable part played by fresh fruits and raw salad vegetables in preventing such diseases.

During the first two or three days after the baby is born, the mother’s breasts do not secrete milk, but yields a yellowish fluid. This fluid, called colostrum, is good for the baby. It is rich in many nutrients and anti-infective factors which protect the infant from infections during the first few days of life. It also takes care of his hunger. The act of suckling during these days will promote the milk flow and soon the breasts will start secreting milk.

All children should be breast-fed where possible. Breast feeding is the natural and ideal way of feeding the infants. Mother’s milk is pure and fresh and it contains in correct proportions, most of the nutrients necessary for the growth and development of the baby.

Breast-feeding is safe, simple and clean. Milk from other sources is liable to contamination, especially in areas with unhygienic environments. This can result in bowel infection. It is a well -known fact that bowel upsets are less common among breast-fed babies than those who are artificially fed. Moreover, the exercise involved in sucking breast aids in the proper development of jaws, palate, mouth and cheek muscles.

In the beginning, the infant should be breast fed on demand and all effort should be made to breast-feed the infant whenever he cries. Once the breast-feeding has been established, it is advisable to train the baby to regular feeding times. In the beginning, he may be given four feeds a day after four-hours of interval, but no feed should be given during night. If the child wakes up at night, only boiled, and cooled water should be given. Babies should be breast fed for atleast six months as this is nature’s way of providing all the required nutrients during this period. Recent research has shown that a mother’s body is capable of reaching to infections and producing antibodies against them. These autobodies pass through milk to babies and protect them against common infections.

If for any reason, it is not possible to breast-feed the baby, he should be fed on either cow’s milk or commercially available milk formulas like Lactogen or Glaxo formula for babies. As far as possible, the baby should not be given artificially prepared, patent or tinned milk foods. When a mother can partly feed the baby, she should give him two feeds of her own and two top feeds or one of her own and three top feeds.

Where babies are entirely breast-fed, they need nothing more than the milk they receive from their mothers. Babies on top- feed should be given some orange juice daily, in addition to the bottle feeds.

Certain precautions are necessary in case the baby is on bottle- feed. The most important of this is to dilute the cow’s milk. The chief protein in milk is caesin, which is 0.5 per cent in human milk and nearly three per cent in cow’s milk. If the milk is not diluted well and boiled properly, it will be very difficult for the baby to digest. This can lead to vomiting and stomach upsets.

Another disadvantage of cow’s milk is that it has high phosphorus content, which can lower calcium in the blood. Therefore, if the milk is not diluted properly, the calcium levels in baby’s blood can fall dangerously and lead to convulsions. Cow’s milk is deficient in vitamins C and D and iron. Children fed on cow’s milk should therefore be given extra supplementation of these nutrients.

If the baby is fed on milk formulas, which are mostly dried powders, the milk powder should be prepared properly as per instructions given on the tin. Extra supplementation of nutrients in case of milk formulas is not necessary as their composition is almost similar to that of mother’s milk.

Another important point in case of bottle-fed babies is that the milk should be boiled properly so as to kill the bacteria. Contamination of milk can lead to typhoid, diphtheria, T.B. and many other infectious diseases.

Sterilization is also an important part of bottle feeding. It is essential to wash the bottle immediately after the feed and to boil the bottle for 15 minutes prior to every feed. Care should be taken that nipples are washed thoroughly and put into boiling water for not more than three to five minutes, otherwise they will melt.

No starchy food or any other foodstuff should be given during this period. If the babies are given starchy foods such as bread and oatmeal before weaning, it will lead to the early development of childhood ailments, as babies lack the proper enzymes needed for digestion before that age.

However, breast milk alone cannot provide sufficient amount of all the nutrients needed for growth after the first six months. Studies on the lactation performance of Indian nursing women have shown that the milk output diminishes after six months of delivery. Supplementary feeding is therefore essential, after the sixth month, for the maintenance of expected growth rate and healthy of the baby. The best method of supplementing the baby’s food at this stage, is to provide cow’s milk.

Great care is necessary in selecting and introducing supplementary food during weaning. It is an important period in the life of a baby, when it switches from a solely breast milk diet to other foods. To begin with, fresh cow’s milk should be boiled and cooled. This milk should be given to the child, diluted with boiled and cooled water on 2:1 basis, for the first feeds. The amount of water can be gradually reduced so that in the course of a few weeks, the baby receives undiluted cow’s milk. About 225 ml. of milk per feed for two feeds is an ideal replacement. A small quantity of sugar may be added to sweeten it. It is of Importances to continue feeding 450 ml. of cow’s milk right through early and late childhood. Juices of fresh fruits like oranges, tomatoes, mosumbi, and grapes can supplement some of the protective nutrients not present in sufficient amount in breast milk as well as in cow’s milk.

In the early stages, the fruit juices can be diluted with boiled water on 50:50 basis and only a couple of teaspoonfuls given. The amount of fruit juice should be gradually increased and at the same time the dilution with water reduced so that in a few weeks time, the baby receives about 85 ml. of less than half a tumbler of orange juice or about 170 ml. of fresh tomato juice. Double the quantity of tomato juice has been suggested as this juice does not contain the same proportion of nutrients as orange juice.

In case fresh fruits are not available, green leafy vegetables may be used in the form of soup. The leafy vegetable should be thoroughly washed with water and boiled with a minimum amount of water and a little salt and onion. It should be strained through muslin cloth and fed to the baby.

The child can also be given a spoonful of very ripe and thoroughly mashed banana. It seldom caused indigestion. The amount can be gradually increased till the child is receiving a whole mashed banana or two or three spoon of cooked fruit pulp.

At the time of cutting teeth, the baby can be given a piece of wholemeal toast or wholemeal hard biscuit to chew, but care must be taken to avoid choking. A slice of raw carrot or fruit segments with skin and seeds removed, can also be given to chew as a good exercise for its gums. In fact, as the child grows, it would be better to give fruit segments instead of juice. Fruit provides bulk in the diet and also contains materials that keep the intestines in good order.

Certain precautions are necessary in feeding a child. If it shows no inclination for food on a certain day, it should be given so much as it wishes for and no more. The assumption that the baby should have certain amount of food everyday has no basis. On the other hand, if a baby does not appear to be satisfied with the quantity of its food and wants more at a feed, it should be given as much as it wants. The child’s hunger should be the sole guide all the time. Sweets and sugary foods should be avoided, as the child will get the sugar its system needs in the best form from the fruit juices and fruits.

A balanced scheme of daily feeding for a child as outlined above will help its growth and development. It will also ensure good health and help prevent common childhood diseases, the functioning of the thyroid gland and benefits respiratory disorders, especially bronchitis and asthma.

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