During the first six months of life, breast milk is the only nutrition that your baby needs. Breast milk has all the required nutrients in this time, like protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
However, as your baby grows into a toddler, breast milk does not provide all the required nutrition. There are very specific nutritional needs, the fulfillment of which will have a lifelong impact on his or her mental, physical and social health and well-being. This is where micronutrients are essential.
As essential elements, micronutrients are required in small quantities for proper growth and development of a human body. These include trace amounts of elements like calcium, zinc, iron, sodium etc., as well as vitamins like Vitamin A, D, K, C and B complex.
Micronutrients are responsible for metabolic and development processes like cell division and cardiovascular growth and many other vital bodily functions. They play an even more vital part of a baby’s growth as young babies experience rapid growth during the early stages. Micronutrients are an indispensable part of a baby’s diet.
The Most Important Micronutrients & Their Role
There are around 40 vitamins, minerals and biochemicals that are known as essential micronutrients. Some of the most important ones are as follows:
Iron is required for the production of hemoglobin – a vital component of human blood that supplies oxygen to various parts of the body. Iron deficiency is a critical condition where the organs don’t receive enough oxygen to function properly and thus break down.
For the first six months, breast milk provides adequate iron to babies. Once the baby starts eating semi-solid food after six months is when additional iron is required in adequate amounts. An iron-rich diet will ensure continued growth and development of the baby’s organs.
The daily recommended dosage of iron for a 12-month-old baby is 11 mg, which can easily be fulfilled by incorporating iron-rich foods like green leafy vegetables, chickpeas, lentils/dals and beans/legumes. You can also include meat and fish in your baby’s diet after the age of 6 months.
As is common knowledge, calcium is vital for healthy bones. However, that’s not all calcium does. It is also responsible for the development of strong teeth, proper nerve and muscle function, food absorption as well as blood clotting.
Children often require greater than usual doses of calcium during their first few years and then between the ages of 11 and 15 as they undergo a growth spurt. The recommended daily calcium intake for your baby is 700 mg.
Deficiency of calcium in babies leads to conditions like rickets and generally weaker bones and makes them susceptible to fractures, thus affecting their quality of life.
Calcium can be found in food items like milk, cheese, yogurt, seeds, beans and lentils.
Zinc’s role in the growth and development of the human body is sometimes overlooked. It is one of the most important micronutrients required by the body. Zinc affects the role of over 70 enzymes in processes that range from digestion to metabolism. The human body also requires zinc for DNA and protein synthesis, which makes it particularly important for growing babies.
The deficiency of zinc can manifest itself in a growing baby in a lot of ways, like a slow rate of mental development. Other symptoms might include eye and skin sores, loss of appetite and lower levels of alertness. It is also important for maintaining the normal function of the skin.
Since our bodies cannot store zinc, you need to regularly feed the baby with zinc rich foods. The daily recommended zinc intake for a 12-month baby is 3 mg. Zinc is widely found in animal meat and poultry like chicken. Vegetarians are often at a higher risk of zinc deficiency which they can take care of by consuming more legumes, lentils, nuts and dairy products.
Like all other micronutrients, vitamins are essential for the optimal functioning of the human body. Since they are not naturally produced in our bodies, we need external sources of vitamins.
Of all the known vitamins, some of them are fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) while others are water-soluble (C, B, B2, B3 and other B variants). Different vitamins perform different functions in the human body, however, they are all crucial for your baby.
Our livers store fat-soluble vitamins and these remain in our bodies for months.
Fat-soluble Vitamins Are Responsible For:
- Proper vision and healthy skin (Vitamin A).
- Proper absorption of calcium in the bones and teeth (Vitamin D).
- Cell growth and development of the nervous system (Vitamin E).
- Clotting of blood (Vitamin K).
On The Other Hand, Water-Soluble Vitamins Are Responsible For:
- Absorption of iron (Vitamin C).
- Prevention of scurvy (Vitamin C).
- Proper development of the immune system (Vitamin B).
- Maintenance of healthy skin and skin tone (Vitamin B).
As long as your baby is eating a well-balanced diet, chances are that he or she has ample vitamin intake. Leafy vegetables, legumes, fruits, eggs, dairy, chicken, and other animal meat are rich sources of the vitamin.
There are several micronutrients that keep us healthy on a daily basis. Although required in very small doses, you cannot overlook the importance of micronutrients in the well being of your growing baby. Fortunately, no special measures need to be taken to ensure your baby is getting adequate micronutrients. A balanced and nutrient-rich diet is all that is required.
Always consult your doctor to know more about various nutrients. Your doctor should be able to recommend a good source of that particular nutrient. You can also give your baby vitamin supplements. However, do this only after consulting a pediatrician.