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Antenatal nutrition talks about the first 1000 days of life of a child which starts from the point of conception till the child turns two years old. This is a critical window where a parent’s and child’s dietary and lifestyle habits affect the child’s lifelong health risk like diabetes, hypertension and stroke. We also know that it affects brain development as nutrition provides the building blocks for cognitive abilities, motor skills and socio-emotional development.
There is so much power a woman can do for her child. With the right knowledge, she is able to give the best start of life to her little one and future generations! Here are some and certainly not limited to how nutrition plays a part in your child’s life, brain development and lifelong health even before complementary feeding starts!
Adequate Nutrition Intake & Brain Development
Brain development happens even before birth. Many nutrients play a role, some nutrients but not limited to like folate, iodine and iron need to achieve adequate intake to prevent stunted mental growth or delayed cognitive function.
Folate supplements are even recommended before conception as the healthy development of the neural tube of the brain and spinal cord forms during the first 28 days and calls for higher folate levels in the body. Singapore’s general recommendations are 600mcg of folic acid per day. This may differ if you have other needs or circumstances, best to obtain individualized recommendations from doctors or dietitians.
Iodine also plays a part in fetus growth, nervous system and brain development. Rich sources of Iodine can be found from dairy and seafood. During pregnancy, the increase in iodine requirements are due to increased requirement to maintain normal metabolism in mothers, transfer of iodine from mother to foetus and greater than normal loss of iodine through the kidneys. A deficiency of iodine during pregnancy is associated with cretinism, a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth. It affects the learning abilities of offspring, making it a key nutrient during pregnancy.
On the other hand, Iron supplementation during key periods of pregnancy has been shown to help with later neurodevelopment in children especially in mothers who have lower iron levels. In a recent study in China, children born to mothers with iron deficiency anemia in late pregnancy had a significantly lower mental development index score than children of non-iron-deficient mothers at 12, 18, and 24 months of age . This deficit, however, was corrected in children of mothers who received iron and folic acid supplementation throughout pregnancy, but not in children whose mothers who had received folic acid alone or a multiple micronutrient supplement that contained half as much iron. If you are prone to anemia even before pregnancy, it’s best to highlight it to your doctor or dietitian.
Optimal Weight Gain during Pregnancy & Lifelong Health
Appropriate weight gain in mothers during pregnancy is important. Yes, it is not a topic talked often as it is a sensitive topic for many. However the evidence shows that optimal weight gain is beneficial for both mother and child’s health. This is not to impose any fear, but to empower women with information they need to know as they go through their pregnancy journey. This enables mothers to make informed decisions. This plan and weights needs to be individualized and discussed with your health care professional or Dietitian during your follow up.
In situations when mothers do not gain sufficient weight during pregnancy, there may be a risk of low birth weight. It is found previously that children born from women who were exposed to famine during early pregnancy are more susceptible to having type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity 40-50 years later in life. This is why women are cautioned and reminded against any fad diets during pregnancy! On the other hand, in instances where too much weight is put on during pregnancy, it is associated with higher risk of offspring being overweight later in life.
Impact of Breastfeeding on Immune System
Breastfeeding is highly recommended to all mothers due to the major health benefits to both mother and child! It is recommended for mothers to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months and if possible continue breastfeeding up to 2 years old or more. Particularly focusing on the benefits of the child, the composition of the breast milk is able to change according to the baby’s needs and growth for the day unlike formula milk. Beyond supplying nutrients, the breast milk is able to provide protective antibodies to the baby which will help to build the immune system of the child. Besides that, breast milk is also influenced by maternal intakes. This makes early introduction to allergenic foods like wheat, soy, eggs, dairy, fish, seafood, nuts and peanuts possible through breast milk! Early introduction to such foods are important as many of these foods are part and parcel of providing a healthy and balanced diet in the common foods highly available in our local community. Besides that, breast milk has human milk oligosaccharides (HMO), that supports a healthy gut environment which is essentially closely related to the immune system, to be more resilient to falling sick and infection. This is how formula milk as a whole is inferior to breast milk if breastfeeding is possible for the mother and baby.
Understandably, during postpartum when mothers are having their daily confinement red date tea or red dates longan tea confinement , foods encouraged during this time are to support recovery as well as to breastfeed. Thus, having a balanced diet that is of wide variety in terms of types of foods would help to provide these initial exposures to the baby via the breast milk. A number of nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin B ( all except folate), Choline, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Omega 3-DHA and Iodine are all dependent on a mother’s dietary intake to be present in adequate amounts in the breast milk.
These are nutrients we know are essential in helping them grow physically and mentally too. Searching for a Red date tea confinement recipe that suits you is not wrong, but it shouldn’t be treated as this one key thing to solve all your problems during your postpartum recovery. Seeking a way to practice a balanced diet that is sustainable during this time for yourself and your family will be beneficial. For some it’s setting menu plans for the family for the week, for others it’s external help from other meal providers which provides balanced meals for you.