Infants have delicate lives
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HELLO Readers. Today, I look at the instinctive behavioural changes that occur in infants as they grow up. I examine their response to their immediate environment.

I also suggest how infants should be fed. Feeding is the most important activity for infants and their delicate lives protected. In this column, I also look at the attendant conditions of breastfeeding mothers.

Let us examine the noble task of infant feeding first. I must insist at the outset that babies aged below six months must be breastfed exclusively. I also find it a moral imperative to mention here that infants at this age must be breastfed every time they demand or each time they cry, for, they are incapable of speech.

Children aged below six months should not be given drinking water. Mothers’ milk has enough water content in it. Introducing solid foods before the child attains the age of six months may ravage its health.

Some food supplements are likely to compromise the infant’s intestinal integrity with bacterial contaminants, food antigens or even food poisoning. Other liquids, apart from the mother’s milk, and solid foods are likely to inflict small lesions in the infant’s immature gut.

Such lesions can easily allow the entry of viruses, including the dreadful HIV. This can develop into frightening or even lethal health impairments. Unicef studies suggest that first foods given to young infants (after six months of age) in Tanzania are nutritionally inadequate.

These foods include thin porridge that appears to be the most popular in the country. Porridge lacks Vitamin A, iron, zink and other essential nutrients. These vital nutrients are found in abundance in mother’s milk.

Breastfeeding provides optimum energy, protein and micronutrients for infants and toddlers. Mother’s milk contains anti-infective properties that help to prevent or reduce the severity of common illnesses.

The most common illnesses in infants include diarrhoea and pneumonia, which are notorious killers. Breastfeeding also helps set up a measure of intelligence in the infant. It provides the physical and psychological interaction - a necessary bond between the child and its mother.

It also provides stimulation. In many parts of rural Tanzania, an infant is often passed over to a foster mother when its biological mother dies. In many cases this guarantees survival for the baby since milk produced by two different mothers has similar properties.

However, this noble, life-saving culture has been disturbed by the prevalence of AIDS. Would-be foster parents now refuse to breastfeed infants of dead women fearing catching the AIDS virus from the infants.

Invariably, substitute foods appear to be the answer to this problem. Most lactating mothers may produce about 750 milligrams of milk or even more every 24 hours. Now let us look at other aspects that must be watched carefully when raising an infant.

Most infants discover their voices at the age of three months. They make gurgles and grunts when they are in a happy mood. It is imperative that caregivers respond with similar or other voices.

This response is, by nature, a meaningful interaction between the caregiver and the infant, although there is no clear-cut message in it. If an infant grows up in a family of mute people -- people who are completely silent – such infant might fail to grasp the necessary elements of speech in its early years of life.

Scientists cite a number of examples of speechless children or children who have no language at all. A six year-old girl, who was found living with a troop of monkeys in a Gulu District jungle in northern Uganda, in the early 1980s shocked fellow humans when she produced voices similar to those made by monkeys.

She even behaved and acted like a monkey, albeit with little perfection. The girl was identified when hunters discovered that one of a troop of monkeys was too slow in climbing a tree. She was not as agile as the rest of the pack and did not have the prehensile tail the real monkeys had.

The hunters captured the clumsy ‘monkey’ easily but discovered that de spite its hairy skin, the animal was actually a human. The girl had lost human voices because she had lost communication with her parents.

She must have joined the baboons at a very tender age for, she had learned more from the monkeys than her own parents. How she survived in the wild without parental care confounded everyone.

One theory is that one or more female monkeys could have nurtured her. She could as well have been wetnursed by a monkey. Her biological parents were never found. When she was reunited with fellow humans and taken to kindergarten the reintegration process proved slow and difficult.

However, she re-assimilating into human culture as years rolled by. She picked up the requisite tenets of behaviour and became a near-normal human again. She even shed some of the fluffy hair on her skin.

According to a recent report, she now sings in a church choir, but some traits of monkey behaviour still linger. Sometimes she breaks into a monkey gibber in a church song. Interaction with infants is of paramount importance.

It goes a long way into shaping the future of the child. It must start immediately after birth. Mothers speak to their newborns right from day one. It is imperative that when your child is taken ill rush him to hospital where his ailment can be diagnosed and treated.

Never bank on the services of shrewd witchdoctors. Never administer crude herbal concoctions to your child. It is superstitious nonsense to treat amulets with veneration and count on their perceived power to heal.

Amulets cannot protect your child from illness or stave off death. Never take your ailing child to a witchdoctor. This is likely to delay medical intervention.

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