A Professor of Public Health Nutrition with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Beatrice Ogunba, has urged mothers to be wary of the types of food they feed their babies with during complementary feeding, noting that exposing infants to the wrong foods can cause malnutrition.

According to the nutritionist, some foods and beverages have been identified by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund as unhealthy for consumption during complementary feeding. 

Complementary feeding, Prof. Ogunba explained starts when breast milk alone is no longer sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements of infants, adding that from that point, other foods and liquids are needed, along with breast milk to meet the nutritional needs of the baby.

According to the WHO, after six months of age, it becomes increasingly difficult for breastfed infants to meet their nutrient needs from human milk alone.

Optimal feeding practices, according to UNICEF, are also fundamental to a child’s survival, growth and development.

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“What, when and how young children are fed during the first two years of life lay the foundation for survival, growth and development. 

“Ideally, infants should be put to the breast within one hour of birth, breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and continue to be breastfed up to two years of age and beyond. 

“Starting at six months, breastfeeding should be combined with safe, age-appropriate feeding of nutritious solid, semi-solid and soft foods,” UNICEF noted.

Speaking further in an interview with Newsmen, the nutrition expert said complementary feeding is needed to provide energy and essential nutrients required for the continued growth and development of babies.

The nutrients in recommended complementary foods, she noted, complement those in breast milk, hence the name.

She revealed that the WHO and UNICEF, in a 2021 document added three new unhealthy indicators that mothers should watch out for and snot give as complementary foods.

Prof. Ogunba explained, “Children between ages of six to eight months must have at least the two to three minimum feeding of complementary foods while ages nine to 24 months must have at least four meals with additional healthy snacks.

“Children must eat from groups of food such as grains, roots, tubers and plantains, pulses (beans, peas, lentils), nuts and seeds, dairy products (milk, infant formula, yogurt, cheese, flesh foods (meat, fish, poultry, organ meats, eggs), Vitamin-A rich fruits and vegetables, other fruits and vegetables and breast milk.

“Minimum of two milk feeding for non breastfed babies(200-500ml per day) was recommended.”

The nutritionist, however, said there is a list of foods that mothers should avoid giving to their babies during complementary feeding which she said have been classified by the WHO and UNICEF as unhealthy for consumption for their age.  

“The WHO and UNICEF 2021 document added three new unhealthy indicators that mothers should watch for and should not be consumed as complementary foods.

“These are sweet beverage consumption, unhealthy food consumption and zero vegetable or fruit consumption. The sweet beverage consumption includes commercially produced and packaged, sweetened beverages, 100 percent fruit juice as well as fruit-flavoured drinks, and homemade drinks of any kind to which sweeteners have been added.

“Unhealthy food consumption and zero vegetable or fruit consumption include candies, chocolate, and other sugar confections, chips, crisps, cheese puffs, French fries, fried dough, instant noodles, frozen treats like ice cream, cakes, pastries, sweet biscuits and other baked or fried confections.

“It recommends one vegetable serving (80gm) with every meal in the target age.”

Citing the WHO data, the nutritionist stated that no universal recommendation for the optimal number of servings of vegetables and fruits per day was given. But she said appropriate complementary feeding should include feeding children a variety of foods to ensure those nutrient requirements are met.

Prof. Ogunba advised mothers not to joke about the nutrition of their babies after six months of exclusive breastfeeding, warning that malnutrition usually sets in during the complementary feeding period for many infants.

According to her, poor complementary feeding practices are contributing significantly to the high prevalence of malnutrition in children under five years of age in Nigeria.

Continuing she said,” Thirty-seven percent of children in Nigeria are stunted (below -2 SD), and 19 percent are severely stunted (below -3 SD) (Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, 2018).

“In Nigeria, 22 percent of children are given complementary foods in addition to breast milk before six months and consequently Nigeria has the highest number of stunted children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa and second highest in the world after India (Global Nutrition Report 2018).”

She identified the absence of breastfeeding and early and late introduction of solid, semi-solid, and soft food as some of the characteristics of inappropriate complementary feeding.

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