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DHA's Twitter clinic stresses on early life nutrition.

DHA experts recommend proper diet before and after conception by mother and judicious introduction of foods to babies at different stages

Dubai -- At least 60,000 people who follow the Dubai Health Authority's (DHA) twitter handle @DHA_Dubai learnt the importance of nutrition in the first 1,000 days of a human being's life.

During its smart clinic on Twitter held every Thursday, nutritionists highlighted the importance of early life nutrition.

Dr Wafa Ayesh, Director of Clinical Nutrition at the DHA, said, "Optimum nutrition from conception until the child is two years of age helps provide children with a robust immune system, reduces their chances of being obese, encourages healthier eating habits for life, and has a positive effect on brain development. Therefore, during pregnancy, mothers are recommended to enhance their diet in order to pass sufficient nutrients on to their baby, with additions such as Omega 3, Vitamin D, calcium, and iron."

During pregnancy

Masooma Al Jasmi, senior clinical nutritionist at Latifa Hospital, said: "Pregnant women require at least 27mg of iron per day to avoid iron deficiency and for optimal foetus health. Additionally, supplementation with folic acid (Vitamin B), s required. All women should take at least 400 micrograms/day, three months before conception and throughout pregnancy, this is especially important for women who are 35 years and above, to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs)."

Al Jasmi added: "Women must also ensure they have sufficient vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency causes impaired fetal growth. All women should maintain adequate vitamin D stores during pregnancy and breast-feeding."

Women at particular risk of deficiency include: women with limited exposure to sunlight, women of South Asian, African, Caribbean or Middle Eastern family origin, women who do not eat oily fish, eggs, meat fortified margarine or cereals and women who are obese.

Al Jasmi added: "It is absolutely essential to check Vitamin D levels during and after pregnancy."

Hanadi Al Gabeesh, clinical dietician at Latifa Hospital, said: "To avoid complications caused by gestational diabetes, women should consume complex carbohydrates and avoid simple sugars. Gestational diabetes can cause the baby to grow too large (macrosomia); it can lead to C section delivery, hypoglycemia in the baby after delivery, obese baby and other complications."

After birth

From the time the baby is born to two years is the time nutrition matters the most, added Al Gabeesh. "For children less than two years of age, under nutrition can be life-threatening. It can weaken a child's immune system and make the infant more susceptible to diseases.

"Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants and it has several benefits for the mother as well. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond. In cases where women are not able to provide adequate amount of breast milk, due to medical reasons, supplementation with formula will be recommended by the doctor."

After six months of age, providing a variety of nutritious food is much needed. Al Jasmi said: "However, for the first year, the focus should be on providing 750ml of breast milk per day. But after one year, infants need only 500ml of milk and the rest of the nutritional needs should come from wholesome baby food.

Al Jasmi highlighted some of the common nutritional mistakes parents make. "The biggest challenge is adding sugar to formula milk to make it more palatable. Some give fruit juice to babies in milk bottles, which is just unnecessary calories and causes tooth decay. Instead of fruit juice, it's better to give mashed fruits. Add a variety of foods to your baby's diet; add meat and legumes at a later stage. Slowly add baby foods that offer new tastes and textures. Infants over 12 months should be able to eat family meals instead of just eating mashed foods.

"Simple nutritional steps followed during the first two years will go a long way in ensuring that infants develop a strong immune system."

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Mar 13, 2015
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