Written by Kathy Fray
Pot plants have pretty straight forward nutritional needs – feeding, watering and sunlight – but personally I have sometimes become frustratingly adept at killing pot-plants. The bad news is that babies and toddlers are obviously way more complicated than pot-plants! The good news is that babies and toddlers can also be way less complicated than pot-plants … so long as you’ve got the basics right and know the Signs and Symptoms of problems.
For under six-month-old babies, generally they need nothing but breastmilk, as it is a dynamic living food that constantly adjusts to its consumer’s needs. For example breastmilk can have a higher thirst-quenching quality during the heat of summer.
Unlike breastmilk, infant formula is linear, and cannot become more thirst-quenching in summer (never dilute formula). So it is possible that formula-fed babies may on hotter days need additional cooled boiled water.
Dehydration in children can be mild and easily treatable, or can be serious and life-threatening – but it is always of concern in infants, especially young babies. Dehydration can typically be the side-effect of inadequate fluid intake (such as a poorly feeding newborn, or infant refusing to swallow due to a tonsillitis sore throat); or the result of hot air temperature from heating or hot days; or fever, vomiting and diarrhea (such as from gastroenteritis).
Signs and symptoms of FVD (fluid volume deficit) include lethargy (unresponsive sluggish irritability or excessive sleepiness); dry mucous membranes (dry lips and parched tongue); tearless crying; or sunken fontanelle (on baby’s head). As a counter-defence the kidneys reabsorb more water, resulting in another dehydration symptom, oliguria (low urine output of infrequent dark smelly urine).
Dehydration causes water and electrolyte (essential mineral ions) imbalances and potential acid-alkaline imbalances, with subsequent impaired bodily functions. Left untreated, dehydration can eventually manifest as dull sunken eyes; a weak irregular pulse; tachycardia (increased heart rate); convulsions and coma.
Dehydrated infants obviously need water – not fruit juice – though heavily diluted fruit juice is okay if it helps to make the water more appealing to the infant. However dehydrated babies and toddlers should be under the vigilant watch of a doctor, who may prescribe a commercially prepared electrolyte-rehydration drink.
Regarding nutrition, for 6-12 month old babies there can be wisdom in feeding moderate amounts of farinaceous foods (carbohydrate starches) – because until an infant’s mouth is bristling with teeth including first molars, their saliva can be low in the amylase ptyalin, which is an important enzyme in the conversion (chemical digestion) of starch to glucose. So up until the first birthday, a diet predominantly rich in vegetables, fruit and a little protein can be advantageously beneficial.
For 1-3 year old toddlers there often frustratingly occurs a transition within the months after their first birthday, when the ‘fabulous eating baby’ becomes a ‘fussy eating toddler’. Part of the reason is that walking requires less energy than crawling, plus their overall metabolic growth rate is slowing, plus their personality is continuing to mature so they can start to express increasing personal preferences. Nutrition-conscious parents don’t typically worry about their baby’s diet – but they often worry about their toddler’s diet!
My best advice during this minefield of potentially frustrating meal-times is to just do your best to ensure every day somehow your child has consumed something from all the major food groups. These include carbohydrates and fiber (from plants such as fruit, vegetables and grains); protein (such as meat, eggs or milk); minerals (from vegetables, legumes, milk and meat); vitamins (all food groups); and water (also supplied within fruit, vegetables and dairy).
As fussy-eaters get older and begin to understand incentives, it is possible to motivate them with enticing rewards such as “If you finish all your vegetables, eat your fruit and drink your water, we’ll let you have a scoop of ice-cream!” But while fussy-eaters are still young toddlers, then if coating mashed vegetables in a little custard is what it takes to get it swallowed, then go for it! Better that tactic, than no vegetables.
Our bodies’ dietary needs also include lipids (fats and oils) as every cell in the entire body has a lipid exterior membrane – however our Western diet is rarely short on lipids! The exception is Omega-3 (fish/flaxseed oil) which is highly recommended as a daily supplement, especially for growing infants and children.
Nutrition-conscientious Western parents are unlikely to have an infant with malnutrition – though it is possible for a fussy-eating toddler to be deficient in a single nutrient. A good option for poor eating toddlers can be to include a children’s daily multi-vitamin – though with young children it can be best to crush the tablet and add it to other food to avoid the risk of choking.
At the end of the day, perhaps one of the most important dietary requirements for Western babies and toddlers these days, is to ensure a minimal intake of refined sugar! The human body doesn’t need it at all – for the body happily converts starch maltose, fruit sucrose and milk lactose, all into glucose (blood sugar) as fuel for cellular metabolic energy.
Our hormone Insulin regulates blood sugar levels aiding cellular uptake of glucose, but high sugar diets can stress our pancreatic insulin-producing Beta cells – such as our society’s increasing levels of children with adult-onset Type-II Diabetes Mellitus. Subsequently, it is always best if foods such as sugary cereals, biscuits, cakes, jelly, ice-cream, chocolate, many commercial fruit-juices, soft-drinks, ice-blocks and of course lollies; are all eaten as genuinely special treats.
If your toddler can develop into a pre-schooler who, eats a wide diet of fruits, vegetables and proteins; drinks mainly water; and knows that sugary foods are a special treat – then you can be immensely proud of doing a fantastic job of instilling great dietary habits.