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Developmental milestones and key nutrients for babies aged 0-6 month

Developmental milestones and key nutrients for babies aged 0-6 month

The first 6 months are filled with excitement, sleeplessness (for mum and dad) as well as some major developmental milestones that will see your baby change dramatically from that first day you brought your baby home from the hospital.

Brain development

A great deal of the brain’s structure and capacity is formed during the first 1000 days, with the first 6 months being a rapid time for cognitive development. While the cognitive, social and emotional parts of the brain will continue to development across the lifespan, a great deal of the brain’s ultimate structure and capacity is shaped early in life before 3 years of age [1].

From birth to 6 months of age, the brains prefrontal cortex has a growth spurt. This area of the brain is involved in complex processing behaviours, attention and multitasking. The hippocampus is also growing at a rapid rate, developing baby’s recognition and memory.

DHA from omega-3 fatty acids is a critical nutrient needed for brain development and healthy neurosignaling, and while breastmilk contains DHA, levels are dependent on mother’s dietary intake. Western countries such as Australia, USA and the UK have shown lower levels of breastmilk DHA compared to countries with high fish consumption such as Japan [2].

Breastfeeding mothers should ensure their diet contains adequate omega-3 from oily fish such as salmon 3 times a week, with the addition of an omega-3 supplement when dietary intake is inadequate. If using infant formula, ensure it contains a sufficient level of DHA (at least 12mg per 100ml).

Key nutrients needed for brain development:

  • Fatty Acids DHA, EPA and ARA

  • Choline

  • Iron

  • Folate

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin B12

Eye development

Babies are not born with perfect vision, in fact it takes a few months for bub’s eyes and vision to properly develop. Newborn babies primarily focus on objects 8 to 10 inches from their face, roughly the distance to the parent’s face.

By 2 months of age, babies can focus their eyes better on the object or person in front of them, and by 3 months they can follow and reach for objects. As baby’s brain is making new connections and the eyes and vision are improving, baby will start noticing his own hands, turn his head towards a sound and reach for and hold toys [3].

The ability for babies to see colour develops over the first 6 months of life. When babies are born, they can only see shades of colour, but by about 5 months babies generally have good colour vision.

Key nutrients needed for eye development:

  • Vitamin A

  • Lutein

  • DHA

Bone and teeth development

Did you know that babies are born with 20 baby teeth (also known as primary teeth) which stay under the gums until about 6 months of age when baby’s first teeth begin to appear? Teeth can start moving under the gums causing teething symptoms as early as 2 months of age [4].

Babies are born with soft, flexible bones, and spaces between the bones of the skull, known as fontanelles (soft spots) which help delivery through the birth canal. The newborn skeleton contains a lot of cartilage, which begins to harden into bone at around 3 months of age.

Sufficient vitamin D stores passed on from the mother during gestation are critical for bone development. Preterm babies and babies born to mothers with vitamin D deficiency are usually given infant vitamin D drops to prevent Rickets and support normal bone development.

Key nutrients needed for bone and tooth development:

  • Calcium

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin K

  • Phosphorus

  • Manganese

Intestinal, gut microbiota and immune development

Babies are born with a very limited microbiome, which begins to develop rapidly after birth. Babies born vaginally acquire bacteria passed on through the birth canal which begins colonization of the infant microbiome.

Colostrum and early breastmilk contain high levels of beneficial bacteria, lactoferrin (a type of protein), prebiotic sugars (GOS) and immune stimulating compounds such as nucleotides and antibodies deigned to begin the microbiome and immune system development.

Newborns have a permeable gut, sometimes referred to as an ‘open gut’. The gaps in between the cells of the intestine allow for the transfer of immunoglobulins passed on from breastmilk to stimulate early immune system development. Intestinal permeability gradually decreases over the first 2 months of life and is complete by the time solids are introduced (not before 4 months of age) [5].

Key nutrients needed for digestive and immune development:

  • Vitamin A

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin C

  • EPA & DHA

  • Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)

  • Lactoferrin

  • Nucleotides

Developmental milestones birth to 6 months:

  • Gross motor skills: lift head, straighten legs on flat surface, roll on tummy, sit briefly unsupported.

  • Fine motor skills: hold object, reach for dangling objects, notice own hands and play with fingers, pass toy from one hand to another.

  • Self-help skills: open mouth when see breast or bottle, bring toy to mouth, place both hands on breast or bottle during feeds.

  • Cognitive skills: looks at people’s faces, eyes follow moving object, focus eyes on sound, find toy partially hidden under cloth.

For more articles on baby development and nutrition visit Nurture Central is a hub for expert-led, evidence-based nutrition and health information during the first 1000 days.

Article supplied by Max Biocare.

References

  1. Fox SE, et al. Child Development. 2010; 81:28–40.

  2. Mosca F, et al. Pediatr Med Chir. 2017; Jun 28;39(2).

  3. http://www.childrensmn.org/references/pfs/rehabpublic/developmental-milestones-birth-6-months.pdf

  4. Http://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/how-your-babys-teeth-develop

  5. Castellaneta, et al. Journal Pediatric Gastro Nutr: 2005 May;40(5):632.