Nov 5, 2013

Nutrition for infants and toddlers - Part 1

At the beginning of the year, I set out a goal for myself to share with other moms on what I have learnt during the last 2 years, when it comes to feeding my little daughter. I'm neither a doctor nor a nutrition expert. So please use the tips shared below at your own discretion and consult with your pediatrician.

I plan to write this topic in a 3 part series. In the first part, the main focus will be on nutrition in the first 6 months after your baby is born. I can complete the post in a single phrase - "breastfeed exclusively for 6 months"

But to reiterate the importance and to share my experience, I think a few more lines is necessary. Even before my daughter was born, I made a commitment that I will breastfeed her and I was quite strong about it. Since I decided to take a break from work much earlier than delivery, it gave me time to read up and understand the benefits of breastfeeding. Towards the middle of the third trimester, I started to include oats, bottlegourd, fenugreek leaves (methi), spinach and masoor dhal regularly in my diet. These foods have helped me maintain a good supply of milk for my new born.

Once my daughter was born, the nurse at the hospital helped me to give the first feed within an hour after delivery. This early feed helps the baby to feel the mother's warmth and also learns to latch on quickly. The lactation consultant clarified a lot of questions around breastfeeding. The initial few days were extremely painful but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature to you as well as your baby.

After we brought our daughter home, for nearly a month, I couldn't sleep for 2 hours at a stretch. She would wake up for feeding many times in the night and I used to feel extremely exhausted due to lack of sleep. Though elders in the family suggested that I should start bottle feed, I resisted that temptation. Once the baby gets used to the bottle, I learnt that it becomes very difficult for the mom to nurse the baby. Thankfully, my supply was also good enough to exclusively breastfeed my daughter, without the need for bottle feed.

Regarding my diet, my doctors advised me to take normal foods that I would eat anyday, with no excess ghee, no hard lentils (channa, rajma) or vegetables (cauliflower, potato) that can cause bloating. I also used to take a tsp of roasted ajwain seeds after lunch and dinner. That was quite helpful to prevent my baby become colicky.

When my daughter was around 4 months, there was pressure from elders in the family to start introducing other foods. Though I resisted for a month, I eventually succumbed and started other foods when she completed 5 months. Wish I was more strong and continued exclusive breastfeeding for 1 more month !

To other moms, please bear in mind that there's certainly no hurry. Your child has his/her whole life to eat solid foods. So there is no need to rush into introducing other foods. Wait for the completion of 6 months, be strong and do not give in to pressure from others.

If you need to get back to work after 3 months, you can still use a breast pump. Talk to your doctor / lactation consultant and understand how you can continue to nurse your baby. Keep formula milk as the last resort.

Breastfeeding also helped me to reduce my pregnancy weight easily. As for my daughter, she didn't fall sick many times (touchwood!) and she has been an active and happy child. Until she was 22 months old, I continued to breastfeed her, along with regular foods.

To summarize, start preparing your mind and body for breastfeeding your baby even before delivery. It's the best gift you can give him/her. Be strong, believe you can do it and most importantly, do not take stress. The post partum period will have an upheaval of emotions. Keep yourself calm without any stress or tension. Get your husband to support your decision to breastfeed your baby.

In the second part, I will talk about the next exciting and challenging phase - introduction of solids.

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