What is the first 1,000 days of life?
21 May 2019

By age 3, a child’s brain has reached 80% of its adult size. The quality of experiences during the first 1,000 days of life establishes either a strong or fragile foundation for everything that follows. 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 develop. 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.

Research in the fields of neuroscience, biology and early childhood development provide powerful insights into how nutrition, relationships, and environments in the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and a child’s 2nd birthday shape future outcomes.

Nutrition plays a fundamental role in a child’s development. Poor nutrition in the first 1,000 days can cause irreversible damage to a child’s growing brain, affecting his/her ability to do well in school and later earn a good living. It can also set the stage for later obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases which can lead to a lifetime of health problems.

Brain development begins before birth. The nutrition that a baby gets from his mother through her diet is the fuel that drives much of this incredible transformation. Nutrients such as folic acid, iron, zinc and iodine, as well as protein and fatty acids play a vital role in building a baby’s brain during pregnancy. When one or more of these is absent during pregnancy, a baby could be at risk for developmental delays, birth defects and cognitive deficits. Because a mother’s diet and her nutrient stores are the only source of nutrition for a developing baby, it is critical that women get the health care and nutritious food they need before and during pregnancy.

When it comes to brain development, breastmilk is nature’s superfood. Breastmilk is the perfect nutrition for brain development. It contains a variety of nutrients and proteins – as well as growth factors and hormones that cannot be replicated in infant formula – that are vital to a baby’s brain development.  Breastmilk should be given exclusively during the first 6 months of baby’s life and it is recommended for two-year-old children, with the appropriate complementary feeding. Numerous studies have shown that babies who are breastfed perform better in intelligence tests and have higher IQs scores as children and teens.

As a baby transitions into toddlerhood, his/her brain continues to develop at a rapid pace. In early childhood, the brain is busy forming connections that allow brain cells to communicate with one another, including connections in the brain’s language areas. Growing brains need nutritious foods rich in iron, zinc and protein. Toddlers need meat and other iron-rich foods to avoid a deficiency in this key nutrient which in turn can impair their learning abilities and their behavior. They need up to 7 times more nutrients than an adult (per kg body weight). Therefore, with every spoon, a child must eat significantly more nutrients than an adult.

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