Infancy, the first year of life, is the period of most rapid growth. A healthy infant doubles his weight by six months and triples it within a year of age. Similarly there is increase in body length of the infant from 50-55 cm at birth to about 75 cm during the first year. By the age of 2 years brain reaches be 80 percent of its adult size. The first 1000 days of life, the time spanning roughly between conception and one’s second birthday, is the period when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established. and also the baby’s organs, nervous system continue to develop and the baby grows physically. So, optimal nutrition is extremely important during this period of life.
Early nutritional deficits are also linked to long-term impairment in growth and health. Malnutrition during the first 2 years of life causes stunting, leading to the adult being several centimeters shorter than his/her potential height. The children who are stunted by the age of two never regain the losses in cognitive development. Undernourished children are ill more often and they are less likely to be enrolled in school, more likely to enroll late in school, to attain in lower achievement scores compared to their well-nourished counterparts. They may also have reduced capacity for physical work. If women were malnourished as children, their reproductive capacity is affected, their infants may have lower birth weight, and they have more complicated deliveries. Optimal infant and young child feeding practices can allow children to reach their full growth potential and prevent irreversible stunting, as well as acute undernutrition. So, this 1000 days period is considered as “critical window of opportunity” for prevention of growth faltering.
The two immediate factors that determine a child’s optimum growth include – adequate dietary intake and infections, which are synergistically related, leading to a vicious cycle of under-nutrition and infections . An appropriate breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices with diverse, nutrient rich foods ensure a child is protected from both under- and over-nutrition. In addition to protecting against obesity, breastfed infants have a lowered risk of several chronic conditions later in life compared to artificially-fed infants, including asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and cardiac risk factors such as hypertension and high cholesterol levels, as well as cancers such as childhood leukaemia and breast cancer later in life.
Thus, for proper growth and development of infant and young child adequate intake of essential nutrients is necessary which is possible only with optimal breastfeeding, proper complementary feeding and proper care.