To grow and develop well, growing children need substantial amounts of energy (as calories) along with other nutrients. Milk as we all know it, is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, particularly calcium. Consuming milk can compensate for the lack of nutrients when your child is still establishing good eating habits and learning healthy food choices. Hence, Milk Matters! So how does milk affect your child’s development- physically and mentally? Let us understand the importance of brain development in your child’s growth first!
The Importance of Brain Development in my child’s growing years
A child’s brain at early childhood (from birth to age 5) is at its potent stage in terms of cognitive development. Whatever occurs during this period influences the child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and in life. Their experiences, whether it be positive or negative, contributes to how their brain develops. We can’t emphasise how important the early years are as it is the best opportunity for a child’s brain to develop the connections they need to be healthy, capable, successful adults.
Hence, as the parent and caregiver, your optimal role is to give proper nutritional support and the right resources to your child.
Next, why does good nutrition matter in the child’s growth, and what is the role of milk in it? How does it affect physical and brain development?
We decided to ask the expert to help answer these questions. Dr Wendy Liew is a paediatrician practising in Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore. She subspecialises in neurological diseases in children, including epilepsy (seizures), headaches and neuromuscular diseases such as myasthenia gravis, spinal muscular atrophy and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. She graduated from the University of Glasgow with a bachelor in medicine and surgery, and completed her paediatrics training in SingHealth. She is a member of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (UK), a fellow of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.
Importance of Good Nutrition
How does good nutrition support my child’s physical and brain development (especially nutrients like Sphingomyelin, 2’-FL, DHA, ARA, Zinc, and iron)?
Dr. Liew: Adequate nutrition is necessary for normal brain development.
That is why having a balanced healthy diet is crucial for a child’s physical and brain development, especially in the first three years of age. This is the period when the foundation for development of cognitive, motor, and social skills are laid.
You mentioned Sphingomyelin in your question – This nutrient supports myelination, a critical process in brain development that supports the efficient transfer of information in the brain. Myelination is closely associated with cognitive development such as language skills.
Another nutrient you will see frequently is 2’-FL. 2’-FL is a component of HMO (Human Milk Olligosaccharides), that are naturally available in breastmilk. 2’-FL supports the development of a healthy gut and immune system and also lowers one’s risk of allergy. In addition, it also helps stimulate brain growth and cognitive development.
The next one I believe many parents are very familiar with is DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid). It is an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid found in food such as salmon and is essential in the growth of the brain. Adequate DHA is not only associated with higher social development scores, better social behaviour, and verbal intelligence, but there is also clear evidence that DHA contributes to the visual development.
A lesser spoken about but a key nutrient to look out for is Zinc. Zinc is a micronutrient that is critical for normal growth and development. Zinc is also important for immune function and wound healing.
Last but not the least is Iron. Iron is essential for age-appropriate growth and development, but children with iron deficiency has been associated with cognitive and behavioural delays.
What are the effects of good and proper nutrition?
Dr. Liew: A good and balanced nutrition is not only vital for healthy growth and development, but it also helps children develop healthy dietary patterns. Good nutrition protects against childhood illness and lowers the risk of chronic diseases.
What is the milk’s nutritional role in a child’s diet?
Dr. Liew: Milk itself is filled with calcium that promotes healthy bone growth. Formula milk has added nutrients like DHA, ARA, Zinc, and Iron which contribute to a child’s physical and mental development. Some key nutrients that have been added over the years are Sphingomyelin and 2’-FL. These added nutrients aid to fortify a child’s nutritional intake, especially if they are not getting enough from solid food.
Finding the right milk formula
What are some things to look out for when deciding which formula milk to buy?
Dr. Liew: One key factor that parents should look out for is the sugar content in the milk formula. Sugar in milk formulas helps your little one accept the milk and is a source of energy but too much sugar can lead to unhealthy cravings and obesity in the long run. Thus it’s always good to choose one that has zero or minimally added sucrose.
Another factor to consider is how your child reacts to the formula milk. Issues such as constipation and diarrhoea/runny stools can happen when you introduce your child to milk formula. If such situations persist, please visit your child’s paediatrician.
Most importantly, when comparing the ingredients, I recommend looking for one that has added nutrients that will help with brain development such as Sphingomyelin, DHA, ARA, Zinc, and Iron. These will boost your child’s immunity and brain health, not only during childhood but also in years to come!
Every child is unique, even in how he drinks milk! A child may take a formula better than the other child. As a parent, be ready to trial and error until you find the right brand.
Can milk formula help strengthen my child’s immunity – especially if they are more prone to sickness from school?
Dr. Liew: Essential nutrients such as 2’-FL, Iron Zinc, Folic Acid, Vitamin A, C, and D can help to support the normal functioning of a child’s immune system. In addition, good hygiene habits such as washing their hands regularly is just as important!
This article is brought to you by Wyeth Nutrition.