6.6 Child Development: What is the important role of nutrition to the growth and development of an infant? Explain the factors that impact physical growth and motor development.

6.6 Highlight the important role of nutrition to the growth and development of an infant


Adequate nutrition is a pre-requisite for the changes in size, shape, brain development and mastery of skills. At first, infants are unable to eat or digest food, but their rooting, sucking, swallowing and breathing reflexes enable them to consume the quantities of liquid nourishment they need.

Appropriate nutrition and feeding habits help to ensure healthy development of the infant. Infant’s nutrient needs differ from those of adults in both quantity and proportion.


Is Breast Milk Important?

Breast milk alone will meet the infant’s needs during the first 4 to 6 months. In these early months breast milk is the most ideal infant food.  It has several advantages over other alternatives:

  • It is sterile, that is, not contaminated.
  • It’s at body temperature.  It is not too cold or too hot.. Thus it     does not need to be heated or cooled for consumption.
  • It contains proper nutrients needed by the growing baby for     instance it contains more iron, vitamin C and vitamin A than     cow’s milk
  • It contains antibodies that provide the infant some protection     against any disease that the mother herself has had, or has     been inoculated against such as chickenpox, smallpox,     tetanus etc.
  • It’s more digestible than cow’s milk or formula – hence breast     fed babies have fewer allergies and digestive upsets than bottle  fed babies

Breast milk is the best milk for babies.


What is Weaning?

Parents often want to know when to introduce new types of food. In the second half of the first year breast milk continues to be the infant’s primary nutritional source. In order to thrive during the first two years infants need about 50 calories per day per pound of body weight.  These calories can not be supplied from breast milk alone. By 5 months or so, babies need solid food. Hence solid foods should gradually be added to the diet. For example, cereals for iron & B vitamins, fruits for vitamins A & C. By the time the infant is one year old, the diet should include all the nutritious foods the rest of the family consumes.    The process of giving up one method of feeding for another is called weaning.



During the first year of life, severe protein – calorie deficiency causes Marasmus, growth stops, body tissues waste away and can lead to infant death.    During toddler hood (from 1 year on to 2 years ) protein calorie deficiency is more likely to cause Kwashiorkor – a condition in which the child’s face, legs and abdomen swell with water – the child may appear well fed to anyone who does not know the real cause of the bloating. In this condition, the essential body organs take the available nutrients at the expense of other organs.  The child’s hair become thin, brittle and colourless (may appear brown for the African child).


The primary cause of malnutrition in developing countries is early cessation of breastfeeding. Malnutrition can lead to diseases or death.  Malnourished infants who survive carry handicaps that sometimes remain throughout their life span – e.g. seriously malnourished children tend to be shorter and intellectually inferior than their peers.  Such intellectual inferiority is due to slower brain development caused by lack of essential nutrients. Malnourished infants may become sickly and hence fail to explore the environment adequately. Most motor skills are developing during the first two years – these can be affected by serious malnutrition.


Both mother and baby need to be properly fed with a proper diet to avoid serious malnutrition in the baby.


6.7 Highlight factors that impact physical growth and motor development



1. Genetics:

Family hereditary factors contribute to :

  • Rates and range (genotype and phenotype) of size and weight
  • Specific learning styles, types of intelligences, and learning disabilities
  • Development of physical diseases and allergies


2. Nutrition

Amount and types of foods intakes impact health and growth.

  • Excessive caloric intake leads to obesity: baby formulas,
  • Improper diet results in malnutrition and reduced health with underweight,  wasting and stunting and underdevelopment of individual brain cells and thus brain’s functioning capacity
  • Chemicals in specific foods may enhance concentration and memory in brain (choline in egg yolk, meat, fish, cereals and legumes); high carbohydrate diet increases serotonin levels and tryptophan, a neurotransmitter actives when we sleep)
  • Absence of specific minerals and vitamins relate to development of specific diseases (Example, iodine: goitre;


3. Emotions

High stress impacts ability of body to produce growth hormone (somnetropine) during sleep so growth is retarded (failure to thrive)


4. Stimulation

Environmental stimulation enhances genetic predispositions to encourage early and stronger physical capacities, including enhanced muscle development and coordination (Practice makes perfect)


5. Gender

Boys tend to be heavier and longer at birth and have less dense bones (cartilage) at birth.

Both boys and girls grow at very similar rates, but boys initial growth in first few months is just slightly slower than girls so by the end of first three years they are approximately the same height and weights – all other things being equal.


Definition of Key Terms

Further reading


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