Malnutrition makes babies susceptible to worldwide health problems such as obesity, diabetes and cancer. Treatments cost a lot of money with low life quality. Receiving proper nutrition during the first two years of life is vital for the healthy growth and development of a child. It has been particularly noted that healthy height and stature at two years is the best predictor of educational and economic success. Breast milk provides many nutritional benefits to a child and contains anti-infective properties that protect newborns from early infection. Breastfeeding serves as an important component of infant nutrition and should be considered in topics of research and policy to address infant mortality and morbidity. The immunological benefits of breast milk can help protect children from infection and prevent disease.
Unless extremely malnourished, virtually all mothers can produce adequate amounts of breastmilk.
Maternal deficiencies of some micronutrients can affect the quality of breastmilk. These deficiencies should be avoided by improving the diet or providing supplements to the mother.
To support lactation and maintain maternal reserves, most mothers in developing countries will need to eat about 500 additional kilocalories every day (an increase of 20 percent to 25 percent over the usual intake before pregnancy). Well-nourished mothers who gain enough weight during pregnancy need less because they can use body fat and other stores accumulated during pregnancy. Lactation also increases the mother’s need for water, so it is important that she drink enough to satisfy her thirst.
Breastmilk is rich in the vitamins and minerals needed to protect an infant’s health and promote growth and development. If the mother’s diet is poor, the levels of micronutrients in breastmilk may be reduced or the mother’s own health may be affected. It is therefore important that the mother’s micronutrient intake is adequate. A diverse diet containing animal products and fortified foods will help ensure that the mother consumes enough micronutrients for both herself and her breastfeeding infant.
In areas where vitamin A deficiency is common, it is currently recommended that all mothers take a single high-dose supplement of 200,000 international units3 (IU) of vitamin A as soon as possible after delivery. Studies have shown that such a supplement improves the vitamin A levels in the mother, in breastmilk, and in the infant. High doses of vitamin A are not recommended for women during pregnancy or later than eight weeks after delivery (or later than six weeks if the mother is not breastfeeding) because too much vitamin A may cause damage to the developing fetus. Although high doses during pregnancy can be dangerous, daily (<8,000 IU) or weekly (<25,000 IU) low-dose vitamin A supplements during pregnancy can reduce maternal night blindness and death.
The levels of thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, iodine, and selenium in breastmilk are also affected by how much is in the food the mother eats. In areas where deficiencies of these micronutrients are common, increasing the mother’s intakes through improved diets or supplements will primarily improve breastmilk quality and infant nutrition.
Other micronutrients (such as folate, calcium, iron, copper, and zinc) remain at relatively high levels in breastmilk even when the mother’s reserves are low. This means that the breastfeeding mother’s own reserves can be used up and that it is primarily the mother herself who will benefit if she eats more food high in these micronutrients. Additional calcium and iron, in particular, are often needed to protect maternal reserves.
Deficiency of certain vitamins in the mother would affect the nutritional quality of her breast milk which will effect not only mother health but also infant health and progress.. These are the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, B6 and B12) as well as vitamin A, C and D found in breast milk that are mainly influenced by the mother’s diet. These vitamins are of concern since the breastfed child will also show a deficiency and accordingly, the child becomes at risk for neurological and skeletal problems, as well as growth retardation. Apart from these nutrients, fat and protein in breast milk should not be affected.