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Facts for Life

Nutrition and growth

Key Messages: What every family and community has a right to know

 
  1. A young child should grow and gain weight rapidly. From birth to age 2, children should be weighed regularly to assess growth. If regular weighing shows that the child is not gaining weight, or the parents or other caregivers see the child is not growing, something is wrong. The child needs to be seen by a trained health worker.

  2. Breastmilk alone is the only food and drink an infant needs in the first six months of life. After six months, a baby needs a variety of other foods in addition to breastmilk to ensure healthy growth and development.

  3. From the age of 6–8 months a child needs to eat two to three times per day and three to four times per day starting at 9 months – in addition to breastfeeding. Depending on the child's appetite, one or two nutritious snacks, such as fruit or bread with nut paste, may be needed between meals. The baby should be fed small amounts of food that steadily increase in variety and quantity as he or she grows.

  4. Feeding times are periods of learning, love and interaction, which promote physical, social and emotional growth and development. The parent or other caregiver should talk to children during feeding, and treat and feed girls and boys equally and patiently.

  5. Children need vitamin A to help resist illness, protect their eyesight and reduce the risk of death. Vitamin A can be found in many fruits and vegetables, red palm oil, eggs, dairy products, liver, fish, meat, fortified foods and breastmilk. In areas where vitamin A deficiency is common, high-dose vitamin A supplements can also be given every four to six months to children aged 6 months to 5 years.

  6. Children need iron-rich foods to protect their physical and mental abilities and to prevent anaemia. The best sources of iron are animal sources, such as liver, lean meats and fish. Other good sources are iron-fortified foods and iron supplements.

  7. Iodine in a pregnant woman's and young child's diet is especially critical for the development of the child's brain. It is essential to help prevent learning disabilities and delayed development. Using iodized salt instead of ordinary salt provides pregnant women and their children with as much iodine as they need.

  8. As the child's intake of foods and drinks increases, the risk of diarrhoea substantially increases. Contamination of foods with germs is a major cause of diarrhoea and other illnesses that cause children to lose nutrients and energy needed for growth and development. Good hygiene, safe water and proper handling, preparation and storing of foods are crucial to prevent illnesses.

  9. During an illness, children need additional fluids and encouragement to eat regular meals, and breastfeeding infants need to breastfeed more often. After an illness, children need to be offered more food than usual to replenish the energy and nourishment lost due to the illness.

  10. Very thin and/or swollen children need special medical care. They should be taken to a trained health worker or health facility for assessment and treatment.