Why you should pay close attention to the first 1000 days of your baby's life

You might have heard the phrase ‘The first 1000 days’. It’s a unique window of opportunity in your little ones development (1)
.

What happens in this phase is responsible for shaping your child’s future health and development for the rest of their life. Research shows it even has an impact on our society!

The first 1000 days

In this 4 part blog series, I’m going to take you through what this means, what you can do for your little one at each of the significant stages within the first 1000 days period and help you lay the very best foundations for your children’s futures. 

What are the first 1000 days of life?

The charity Unicef defines the first 1000 days as the period of time which is THE most important in terms of child development (3)
. This is when your child’s brain grows and develops at a rapid pace and the foundations of future health are built (2)
.

When does it start and last until?

From the moment they are conceived up until your child is two years old.

Does food affect my baby as early as this?

Yes! Absolutely and it’s the reason why I’ve written this blog. There are two parts to this:

  1. The right nutrition or WHAT you feed them (before and after your baby is born) and

  2. The right nurturing or HOW you feed them. 

Both food and feeding are two essential components for optimal brain development (3)

Why is the first 1000 days window of opportunity for my baby’s brain development?

The first 1000 days of life

Your baby’s brain needs good nutrition as much as their body does. There are key nutrients that are the cornerstone of brain development (2)

Your baby’s brain grows more quickly in the first 1000 days, than at any other time in life (2)
. This actually starts early on in pregnancy and continues into childhood. 

The most rapid periods of brain growth are in the last trimester of pregnancy and the first two years of life (1)

What happens now lays the foundations for:

  • motor skills – how your child moves, 

  • social development – how they interact with others and 

  • cognitive abilities – their intellect and the way they think (2)
    .

How does the 1000 first days shape my child’s future health?

Research shows that well nourished, cared for and protected children, have the best chance of a secure and healthier future (2)
both interns of their physical and mental health.

The first 1000 days is when crucial systems develop such as our immune system, which protects us against certain diseases, ensuring we remain as healthy as possible. 

Pregnancy and the first 1000 days

If you experienced poor nutrition in childhood, you are more likely to pass this down to your own children (2)
as parenting practices often get passed from generation to generation and what we choose to feed our children, and how we go about it is often significantly influenced by our own experiences as a child. For example if you were given fish fingers and chips for tea as a child you are likely to offer this to your child, and if you always ate without your parents who had a different dinner later, you are likely to do the same with your children.

You can help your children but also future generations of your family by making the right choices about nutrition and how you parent around food (2)
and if you would like to learn how to do this appropriately you can join my Positive Food Parenting programme by signing up here.

How does poor nutrition or poor food parenting practices affect the brain?

A poor diet with limited nutrition or the incorrect food parenting around how you feed your child, can sadly have an irreversible effect on the brain (2)
and their futures.

Weaning and the first 1000 days

If children do not receive the nutrition needed for their brain to develop to its full potential (8)
.

Poor parenting around how to feed your little one can result in fussy eating at best and attachment issues which have a profound effect later in life including poor coping skills, aggression or withdrawn behaviour (10)
.

Nurtured parenting should be a part of feeding your baby or little one, whether you are breast or bottle feeding, weaning or feeding a fussy toddler. 

For babies feeding is an opportunity for you to get close and nurture that bond. Make sure both of you are comfortable and enjoy plenty of eye contact (11)
, don’t look at your phone!

As your child gets older, focus on a good routine of regular meals and snacks, eating together and offering opportunities for new foods. Children benefit from a routine and this is the same for food. A regular daily meal plan allows your children to build healthy relationships with food (12)

What are the consequences of not making the most of the first 1000 days?

Unfortunately, we know what the consequences are of not making the most of the first 1000 days. Families in developing countries such as Indonesia have been studied and poor growth and development is a common issue. 

First 1000 days

The cause is due to a combination of poor nutrition, inadequate socialisation and stimulation at a young age and repeated infections. 

These children grow up to have poor cognition, poor educational performance and as adults have low wage jobs and an increased risk of diseases (8)

What’s startling is that it’s mostly an entirely preventable condition. 

A 1000 days project; the 1000 days fund, has provided growth charts to homes and communities in Indonesia to try and prevent this and monitor progress (8)

As a parent what can I do now for my little one?

Your role is crucial, you are the key person to ensuring your baby grows into a healthy, well developed child and adult. They are fully reliant on you to look after them and help them reach their full potential (8). 

The first 1000 days last until your baby's 2nd birthday

In the subsequent blogs linked below I’m going to walk you through some practical tips on what you can do through each of the stages. Feel free to read them all or jump straight to the section that’s relevant. 

Food & feeding in pregnancy
 

Food & feeding during the first 6 months of life

Food & feeding for weaning
 

Food & feeding toddlers

Sarah Almond Bushell, MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD, Registered Dietitian & Children's Nutritionist

Sarah Almond Bushell, MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD, Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist

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