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EARLY LIFE NUTRITION

Growth Challenges

Nutrition and Growth

Nutrition in early life lays the foundations for health in later life. During the first 1,000 days, a child is growing and developing at an enormous rate and the growth experienced now is greater than at any other time in life. From the first day of pregnancy (conception) to a child’s second birthday they will have grown from 1 tiny cell to over 3 trillion cells. Adequate nutrition during this unique period is one of the fundamental prerequisites for survival, growth, optimal development and lifelong health.

Growth challenges in early life

Growth throughout the early stages of life is rapid: generally, at three years old a child has doubled their height and they weight about five times more than at birth. Genetic and physiological factors, environmental factors such as poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition, disease burden and poverty mean that some infants are not able to meet these growth standards. With proper intervention, many of these infants will eventually catch up and reach their normal growth potential; those that don’t are considered to have faltering growth or to be failing to thrive (FTT). Nutritional screening and growth monitoring are therefore important to ensure these infants are identified early and receive the appropriate nutritional therapy to allow for optimal growth and development.

As a consequence of this rapid growth and proliferation, optimizing the growth trajectory may be more important at this time than at any other. A multitude of factors may negatively influence growth and development at this critical time, including poor hygiene, poor maternal or infant nutritional intake and status, infectious diseases, and low socio-economic status. All of these factors may adversely influence fetal / infant growth and development. Moreover, nutrition is thought to be one of the most important external influences and it is plausible that even small nutritional deficits, especially when persistent, or when occurring during a sensitive ‘’build phase’’ may adversely impact growth, development and later health.

At Nutricia we work hard to understand how nutrition impacts on growth and development of infants from prior to conception, during pregnancy and after birth in both preterm and term infants. Most infants grow as expected but inadequate growth occurs in both preterm and term infants, affecting approximately 5% of children. 

Growth in preterm infants

Preterm babies (born at or before 37 weeks of pregnancy) are particularly vulnerable as most weight gain occurs between 36 and 40 weeks of pregnancy. Children born prematurely miss this important window of development in the womb (in utero). They are facing the challenge to complete this development in an extrauterine (out of utero) environment.

Additionally, preterm babies are born with depleted nutrient stores and with a less developed digestive system that can only take a small volume of feed. These babies born too soon will require additional individualised care with nutrient-dense support to meet their needs both for growth and for future health.

Breast milk is the preferred choice for preterm infants. However, in a significant proportion of preterm infants, breast milk alone is not sufficient to meet their increased nutritional requirements because the nutritional demands of preterm infants are much higher. Enriching breast milk with a nutritional supplement / fortifier is a common practice by healthcare professionals as that way, the immunity benefits of breast milk are still retained.