Bringing Up Healthy Women: Age 0-5
Photo credit: Anega Bawa photography

Bringing Up Healthy Women: Age 0-5

Good health begins from birth and here is what mothers need to keep in mind during the first five years

In this series on women’s wellness, we bring you the specific needs of the girl child, adolescent girls, young, middle-aged women and the elderly who need geriatric care.

In this part of the series, we focus on what babies from birth to five years of age need and what their parents must watch out for.

Vaccination and improved awareness about hygiene have resulted in healthier childhood and the eradication of many life-threatening diseases.

But now, the focus has to shift towards mental and physical fitness as lifestyle changes are causing many new problems in children even as young as 1 and 2 years of age. The change in the family structure from joint to nuclear, poor dietary habits and increased social media use by adults are having a serious impact on the health of the children, cautions Dr JK Reddy of Apollo Children’s Hospital.

“Earlier, new mothers would stay in their parental home for a few months after delivery to recover. The grandparents and other relatives would interact with the child and stimulate interaction, thus helping in the development of the child,” he points out.

Dr JK Reddy says change in family structure has impacted child development
Dr JK Reddy says change in family structure has impacted child development

But these days, work commitments sometimes force mothers to not only return to their homes earlier, sometimes they are also abroad and end up being the sole care giver for especially their younger children if they have more than one.

“Many children get diagnosed as being autistic, but in my view, they are only mimics, displaying behavioural issues that can be rectified with personal care and attention,” he stresses.

The period from the time of birth to five years is crucial for the development of children. According to, the new born infant’s brain is only a quarter of the size of the average adult brain. This doubles in the first year, is 80 per cent by age 3 and 90 per cent by the age of 5.

More importantly, the early years is when the brain cells start getting connected in complex ways, endowing the child with different abilities such as movement, language and emotion.

Most learning happens through observations, experiences and interactions and therefore, as the parents are, so will the children be.

This is leading to excessive exposure to electronics at a very young age. According to one study on the impact of screen viewing on sleep duration, across the globe, in several countries, nearly 90 per cent of the children under the age of 4 are exposed to more than an hour of screen viewing leading to sleep deprivation due to hyperarousal caused by the brightly lit screen.

“Deaddiction centres are coming up to wean people away from the mobile phone!” says Dr Reddy. WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends at least 180 minutes of physical activities from children between the ages 1 and 5; not more than one hour of being restrained in prams, strollers and the like; no screen time and plenty of story-telling and interactive games.

“Since it is hard to ban TV altogether, it is better to watch education programmes with the young ones and interact with them to also enhance their social skills,” he adds.

But he stresses on the need for play time.

“Children in that age group are a bundle of energy and need to spend it fully to be able to sleep well at night,” he explains.

In fact, studies reveal the link between obesity and sleep deprivation. For instance, a study of more than 8,000 children in the UK found that those with less than 10.5 hours of sleep at a night at the age of 3 had a 45 percent higher risk of becoming obese by age 7 as against those who slept more than 12 hours.

Another study of 915 children in the US had a similar finding that infants who slept for less than 12 hours a day had double the chances of being obese at age 3. Maternal depression during pregnancy, being given solid foods before the age of 4 months and being exposed to TV were some of the factors responsible for the shorter sleep duration.

And sleep deprivation as well as obesity have been identified as some of the early triggers of menarche and menstruation in girls, which also become common these days.

Children also develop social skills during this period. Psychologist Erk Erikson has identified 0-5 years as the time when children learn to trust adults (by 12 months), develop autonomy, shame and doubt (between 1 and 3 years), and initiative versus guilt by the age of 6. Having a positive self-image is critical at this stage so that they can go on to become confident and self-assured in their adult life.

Proper nutrition is also critical for a healthy body. In India, especially, girls tend to be anaemic throughout their lifetime. Including simple dishes such as peanut jaggery ball and drumstick leaves regularly can be enough to rectify the problem.

“Since in India there is an abundance of fresh food, it is better to have them in their natural form rather than tinned foods,” Dr Reddy adds, decrying the tendency to consume imported supplements.

In the very young, the difference between boys and girls is barely significant. But added chemicals in foods can increase the oestrogen level, triggering early puberty in the girls.

Now most diseases are also being linked to Vitamin D deficiency. While non-vegetarians can get it from fish, vegetarians must take supplements as prescribed by the doctor.

0-5 years are foundation years. Having a healthy physical and mental development in childhood is important for them to grow up to be healthy and happy in adulthood.

Girls especially grow up to become mothers and their health has greater impact on the well-being of their future generations.

Therefore, laying he right foundation stones right at the time of birth is important to make them well-adjusted, happy and healthy people.

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