The health, growth and development of an infant are influenced to a large extent by genetic as well as the environmental factors. While genetic factors cannot be manipulated, environmental factors can be controlled. Nutrition is a key environmental factor and presents a “window of opportunity” to achieve optimum health and growth.
The health of the infant also is dependent on the maternal nutritional status. Ensuring optimal nutritional status during pre-conception, pregnancy and lactation is critical to the infant’s health.
The Early Life Nutrition Coalition is an initiative focused on achieving improved nutrition during the first thousand days of the infant. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is recommended by the WHO as well.
Breast milk remains the best way to ensure the baby gets all adequate nutrients including protein, fat, carbohydrates, iron, vitamins including A, D and E, calcium and other minerals.
Breast milk influences the immune system with bioactive substances including white blood cells, lactoferrin, immunoglobulins such as IgE, IgM, IgG which provide protection against a host of infections and protection against lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Breastfeeding also is key to establishing a healthy gut microbiota. A lack of diversity in microbes is known to increase the risk of allergies later in life.