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The first 1,000 days, starting from the point of conception until the second birthday, opens up a unique opportunity to set healthy foundations for nutrition and stimulation. Scientists discovered that health risks such as obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, may be determined by nutritional the status during this period [1,2]. Proper nutrition during this time also has the potential to shape a baby’s growth, neurodevelopment and overall health across their entire lifespan [3,4,5].
1,000 days of brain development
Until 2 years, babies will go through extremely rapid growth, especially in brain development. With over a thousand neural connections being made every second, this is the period of life when the brain is at its peak for growth and neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to make new/reform connections, aiding the learning process) [4,6,7]. Brain regions regulating emotional states and memories, visual/auditory senses, and the ability to understand languages and other higher processes are all key growth areas during this time [4,7], making it truly a time worth paying attention to in order to ensure future success.
Experts’ Advice: What to Feed for the first 1,000 days
During pregnancy: Adequate levels of iron, folic acid, calcium, iodine, Vitamins A, B6/12 via fortified/supplemented sources in addition to natural food sources [4,5]
Baby nutrition: Immediate initiation of breastfeeding, exclusively till 6 months. Then add complementary foods with a focus on diversity [4,5]:
- Diversify what the parents eat especially when you practice baby led weaning
- Kindly offer new foods even if baby does not accept right away (diversified nutrition can be more beneficial than high caloric food.)
- Respect your baby’s appetite - give them more control instead of forcing them to finish the plate.
- Have positive family meals with minimal distractions - homemade meals are healthy and provide bonding opportunities
Experts’ Advice: Sensory Stimulation & Stress
- Early sensory stimulation promotes healthy development. Speaking and singing to your children, playing with them regularly or simply taking them outside, can help them increase cognitive capacities [6,7].
- If babies are overly stressed during the first 1000 days, toxins may be produced by high levels of cortisol, leading to a reduction in the total number of neural connections and lowering the capacity for plasticity . One way to reduce stress is to foster an environment in which bonding between child and caregiver is able to take place. One where the baby is aware the caregiver is present and is comfortable and happy .
Experts’ Final tips
It's simple. Just two tips to help your baby set strong foundations for lifelong health.
- Increase the diversity of healthy foods you eat and are feeding to your baby.
- Provide sensory stimulation and minimize stress for the first 1,000 days.
- Pietrobelli A, Agosti M, MeNu Group. Nutrition in the First 1000 Days: Ten Practices to Minimize Obesity Emerging from Published Science. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(12), 1491.
- Schwarzenberg S, Georgieff M, Committee on Nutrition. Advocacy for Improving Nutrition in the First 1000 Days to Support Childhood Development and Adult Health. Pediatrics. 2018;141(2).
- Alves da Cunha A, Madeiro Leite A, de Almeida I. The pediatrician’s role in the first thousand days of the child: the pursuit of healthy nutrition and development. Jornal de Pediatria. 2015;91(6)S1.