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About one third of deaths in children under 5 years of age are due to underlying undernutrition, which includes stunting, severe wasting, deficiencies of vitamin A and zinc, and suboptimum breastfeeding. Childhood malnutrition is prevalent in low and middle income countries (LMICs). According to an estimate, 19.4% of children <5 years of age in these countries are underweight (weight-for-age Z score <-2) and about 29.9% are stunted in the year 2011 (height-for-age Z score <-2). The prevalence of both underweight and stunting was highest in Africa and South-Central Asia and stunting and wasting along with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) are responsible for about 2.1 million deaths worldwide in children <5 years of age. It is well recognized that the period of 6-24 months of age is one of the most critical time periods in the growth of the infant. The incidence of stunting is the highest in this period as children have high demand for nutrients and there are limitations in the quality and quantity of available foods, especially after exclusive breastfeeding.
The WHO has recommended exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) till 6 months of age. Despite this, EBF remains uncommon in most countries (both developed and developing), even in countries with high rates of breastfeeding initiation. The importance of breastfeeding on the different aspects of child health continues to become apparent. Recent evidence shows that exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months was found to have protective effects against gastrointestinal infection. The high incidence of morbidity and mortality from gastrointestinal infection in developing countries demands large-scale interventions to increase breastfeeding prevalence and exclusivity.
Complementary feeding for infants refers to the timely introduction of safe and nutritional foods in addition to breast-feeding i.e. clean and nutritionally rich additional foods introduced at about six months of infant age. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), complementary feeding should be timely, adequate, appropriate, and given in sufficient quantity. Several strategies have been employed to improve complementary feeding practices. These include nutritional counseling to mothers designed to promote healthy feeding practices; provision of complementary foods offering extra energy (with or without micronutrient fortification); and Increasing energy density of complementary foods through simple technology.
We share the WHO standard guidelines for:
- Early Initiation of Breast Feeding
- Continued Breast Feeding
- Complimentary Feeding