Importance of the first 1000 days

Introduction

 

The 1,000 days from pregnancy to age two offer a crucial window of opportunity to create brighter, healthier futures. A baby's brain develops more quickly during the first 1,000 days than at any other time of life. This is a time of tremendous potential and enormous vulnerability. How well or how poorly mothers and children are nourished and cared for during this time has a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive. This is because the first 1,000 days are when a child’s brain begins to grow and develop and when the foundations for their lifelong health are built. During this time, the external environments—from the food we eat to our exposure to stress and adversity—shape our future health in powerful ways. The way the brain moulds and adapts to its environment contributes to the sort of person the baby will grow into.

Nutrition

 

A growing body of research suggests that diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and stroke have their origins in pregnancy—and that prenatal nutrition plays an important role in whether a child becomes susceptible to these and other illnesses later in life. There is also research showing that babies start to develop food preferences in the womb with implications for lifelong eating habits.

 

While the brain requires all nutrients for growth, certain nutrients, including protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, iron, zinc, copper iodine, choline, folate and vitamins A, B6, and B12 are particularly critical. Of these, iron, exemplifies the necessity of adequate nutrition at specific times of brain growth to ensure full developmental potential.

Stress

 

If a mother is under a lot of stress while pregnant, this can affect the baby's nervous system and growth. This can lead to health problems later in life, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. In addition, parents who are experiencing family (domestic) violence may not be able to form a loving attachment with their baby.

 

Research also shows the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” is the idea that environmental influences such as alcohol, drugs and chronic stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. So trauma in the first thousand days not only impacts brain development but impacts at a cellular level.

Safety and security

 

Loving, secure relationships are vital for a child's development. It's through their relationships that babies learn to think, understand, communicate, show emotions and behave. Relationships affect how they see the world and how they fit into society.

Playing, singing, reading and talking to your baby are all important ways to help them to feel safe and loved.

Closing thoughts

 

To ensure the best possible first 1,000 days for your baby:

  • avoid smoking, alcohol or drugs

  • eat a healthy, balanced diet when you're pregnant and when breastfeeding

  • breastfeed for at least 6 months, if you can

  • make sure your baby has a healthy diet

  • give your baby lots of love and attention so they feel secure, and

  • if you're experiencing domestic violence or trauma, seek external help