Kobata Chima Thompson is a nutritionist, dietician and an assistant director at the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH). In this interview with APPOLONIA ADEYEMI, she discusses the importance of adequate nutrition before conception, during pregnancy and up to 1,000 days in the life of a child, the impact of exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding and the role of adequate nutrition in achieving general wellness
Could you explain why nutrition is preventive medicine?
Whenever somebody is sick the medical doctor will tell the person to take medications on or before food. You also notice that most of the medication is synthesised from food nutrients which is the biochemistry of it. That is the reason why when the person finishes the medication, he should go back and take normal food as it will help the absorption and assimilation of the nutrients and quicken them.
Most of the medication is to kill the microorgaisms: the bacteria, the fungi, the virus and the group of protozoa or parasites while an affected person will be told to take his nutrients.
Also, that is why the person is given some vitamins most of which are gotten from different food groups including fruits and vegetables. Then the main food groups of starch, vitamins, proteins including plant protein groups and animal protein group which is of high biological value. The animal protein group has all the 10 essential amino acid.
Nature has made it such that when people pick from all the different food types the body will absorb them. That is what we mean by food being a preventive medicine. When you eat right, sickness will be reduced.
Adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days in the life of a child is said to be key for the optimal survival and development of the child. Inadequate nutrition during this period has also been linked to future non-communicable diseases in the child. Could you explain this concept?
When we are talking of first 1,000 days in a man’s life, it means from the time the baby is in the womb to the time the child has reached its second year birthday, the adequate nutritional status is important.
Before a woman gets pregnant; she should be able to build her nutrition adequately to enable the child develop adequately in-utero. Seventy-five per cent of all child development including brain development takes place in the womb. If the mother was properly fed it will help the child; the baby will not be low birth weight and a lot of neurological problems will not arise during the development of the foetus.
When the baby is delivered the mother starts practicing appropriate infant and young child feeding practice which starts with early initiation of breastfeeding. This means within one hour that the child is delivered, the mother should be supported to give breast milk.
That first breastmilk that comes out from a woman that has just delivered the body is colostrum. It is the first form of milk produced by the mammary glands of mammals (including many humans) immediately following delivery of the newborn.
The thick yellowish milk, is the first vaccine (immunisation) given to the child. It has a lot of antigen that is given to the baby.
As the mother continues breastfeeding the baby, she will not give the baby any other thing apart from breastmilk for the first six months; No water will be given to the child throughout this period, allowing the child to get foremilk, which is watery and hind milk.
Similarly, by the time the child reaches six months, the mother needs to start adding complementary food to the breastmilk considering that as the child has grown the breastmilk is no longer sufficient to satisfy the child.
Complementary feeding is added to the child’s food from six monthswhile the child will continue breastfeeding up till two years or beyond. This is the recommendation of the National Policy in infant feeding which is in line with the global policy from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
If that child can be taken care of properly in terms of monitoring its growth and providing the baby other services that is needed, by the time the child gets to two years, it will develop and this will prevent the child from being malnutrished.
If the mother fails to do all these during these critical period, by the time the child reaches its second year, there will be irreversible damage; that child will not measure up to its age mates mentally and in physical growth. That is why we talk of the first 1,000 days during which we should do all we can do to help a child from the womb of the mother until the child is two years so that that child can overcome some future damages that might be irreversible.
Could you highlight what some of irreversible damages are?
The brain development of the child will not be optimal and that is why the intelligent quotient of the child will be affected. In the education sector it is said that if such a child is brought to the school, the pupil will not be able to pay attention because the baby had missed optimal brain development at that early stage. In effect, adequate nutritional status will help to further develop the brain of the child, resulting in high intelligent quotient.
Not only that, proper infant and young child feeding means that as the child is reaching six months, complementary feeding will be introduced, and this will include the provision of all food group: energy food groups, fruits and vegetables , plant protein group and animal protein group.
What is the goal of optimal infant and young child feeding (IYCF)?
The goal is to promote optimal infant and young child feeding (IYCF). It is expected that the media will communicate the importance of early initiation of exclusive breastfeeding and complementing breastmilk with food from six months as well as supporting maternal nutrition at all levels.
Moreover, we expect that the media should also advocate the establishment crèches in workplaces where mothers can practice baby-friendly feeding when they have resumed duty after their maternity leave. There should be baby-friendly facilities in hospitals and communities. Hence, we expect the media to disseminate the right information as well as do documentary that will show success stories about IYCF which could be disseminated throughout the country.
What societal problems are IYCF expected to address in this country?
Practicing IYCF is behavioural and it takes time for people to adopt this behaviour. It takes communication experts of which media is key to communicate the right information and then be able to disseminate them through continuous communication of key messages.
Similarly, the media should through this channel let people know that breastmilk substitutes is not meant for every child that is born. It is meant for a few in the community, through medical directives from physicians. Hence, if it is given to them they should get direction from the facility considering that there is a criteria for its consumption and it should be given to the child for as long as the child will need it so that it does not compromise exclusive breastfeeding by other mothers that can easily practice it.
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