The Importance of Nutrition During the First 1000 Days of Life

Over the next few weeks and months as I start my second weaning journey with Ada, I wanted to share my experience and also use it as an opportunity to cover a variety of topics that take you through all the various stages of weaning.

Many of them are blogs that I already have but I’ll be resharing some and updating some based on my experience this time.

To start with, I wanted to write a bit about a concept known as “the first 1000 days of life”. All about WHY nutrition matters right from the very start.

What does the first 1000 days mean?

The first 1000 days refers to the period beginning right from a baby’s conception through to two years of age. Which research has shown to be a critical period in their development. It’s a period of time when children are growing and developing both physically and emotionally at a faster rate than at any other time in their life.

Why does nutrition matter?

One of the most important aspects of growth during the first 1000 days, is the developing brain. Throughout the third trimester of pregnancy and the first two years of life, a child’s brain is developing rapidly and plasticity is highest during this period – meaning its ability to modify and rewire itself.

There are a variety of nutrients that contribute to the proper development of the brain. Iron in particular plays a significant role throughout the first 1,000 days. So is important to be aware of right the way from pregnancy through toddlerhood. Iron deficiency in infants and toddlers can affect their learning as well as social and emotional behaviour.

Other nutrients of particular importance during the first 1,000 days are protein, zinc, iodine and folate. In pregnancy, a mother’s diet and pre-pregnancy stores are the sole source of nutrition for a growing foetus, highlighting the importance of eating well during this stage. In infancy, a baby’s brain is learning functions including balance, coordination and posture which require adequate nutrition to develop normally. Breastmilk provides a unique variety of nutrients, growth factors and hormones that adapt to a baby’s needs and are crucial for this early brain development.

In toddlerhood, the speed that the brain can process and interpret information is increasing significantly and children start to carry out more complex tasks. Once again, food provides much of the fuel for this important development at this stage. A balance of essential nutrients, including zinc, iron, protein and iodine is key to ensuring the growing brain is getting exactly what it needs to develop and form a strong foundation for later in life.

Ensuring that your growing baby has the right mix of nutrients is extremely beneficial to their long-term health. A lack of key nutrients can lead to poor growth and insufficient brain development. Whilst a poorly balanced diet may result in an increased risk of conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Pregnancy and particularly early childhood can also have an important influence on developing food preferences and eating behaviours. Establishing positive eating behaviours during this early period can provide a good foundation for adult life.

Infographic from: https://thousanddays.org/

Nutrition during the first 1000 days

In this blog, I’ve broken down the first 1000 days into three different time periods pregnancy, the first 6 months and then from 6 months and beyond, once you start introducing solids. I’ve got plenty of blogs across these different topics so I’ve shared links as well as a summary for each stage.

One thing to note is that while this research is all focused on the period between conception and age 2, it’s not to say that anything you do after that period has no effect, nor that any concerns you have about your child can’t be addressed throughout the later years.

The aim is certainly not to make anyone worried that they’ve “missed the opportunity” with their little one’s development. Pregnancy and parenthood are such a huge time of change and there are so many things to bear in mind.

It’s also important to point out that nutrition is only one factor – there are a variety of different things that will influence your child’s growth and development throughout the first 1000 days and beyond. So, while this blog considers the importance of nutrition, it’s not to suggest that it’s the only thing that matters or to create concern if you feel that your child isn’t eating well enough. The aim of this blog is to help offer some practical ways to incorporate nutrition into your child’s early development, without adding any unnecessary stress or worry!

Nutrition during pregnancy

Pregnancy can be an overwhelming time for many women – your body is going through huge changes and often nutrition may be the last thing on your mind – particularly during the first few months. However, eating well during this time is important – not only for you but also your baby’s development. There’s also really fascinating research to show that what you eat during pregnancy can have an impact on their taste preferences later on in life.

There’s no need to follow any special diet during pregnancy and there’s also no need to eat for two – eating a varied, balanced diet is the best way to ensure both you and your baby are getting everything you need. There are, however, a few foods that you should limit or avoid during pregnancy. Check out my blogs below for more detail and the NHS website also has some helpful information on what foods to avoid when you’re pregnant.

When it comes to supplements during pregnancy, there are a couple that are recommended to all pregnant women – Folic Acid & Vitamin D. For other supplements, it will depend on your individual diet and whether you exclude certain foods – check out my blog on supplements during pregnancy for a detailed look at different nutrients.

Pregnancy nutrition blogs:

The first 6 months

For the first 6 months, your child will get all of their nutrition entirely via breast milk or infant formula. Breastfeeding has a huge number of benefits both for mum and baby; it is the way nature intended for us to feed our babies. However, it’s not always possible or chosen by all women and in that case, infant formula is a suitable alternative and will give your baby everything they need nutritionally during the first 6 months of life.

The blogs below cover a variety of different aspects of breastfeeding

Blogs on breastfeeding:

6 months and beyond

From around 6 months is when you’ll start to introduce solids to your baby. There are many different approaches to introducing solids, including baby-led weaning and the more traditional spoon-fed method. Neither approach is right or wrong and it’s important to find what works for you and your family.

A common phrase that’s often thrown around is “food before one is just for fun.” Whilst for many people, this phrase is a source of comfort, particularly when they may be struggling with food refusal or fussy eating, I’m always keen to point out that food is about so much MORE than fun, even during those early months.

Whilst I 100% agree that food should ALWAYS be fun, I think it’s really important to consider all of the ways in which food plays a role in a child’s development, not just nutritionally. This includes:

  • Helping babies to learn about food, mealtimes and the importance of eating
  • Promoting the development of eating skills such as munching and chewing, which are important for babies developmentally before 1 year of age
  • Learning how to self-feed, develop hand eye coordination & the pincer grip as well as learning how to use the utensils needed for feeding
  • Preference development around foods and importantly encouraging babies to experience and taste a wide variety of flavours in the early years, which helps to shape food preferences later in life

I’ll be sharing much more on weaning over the next few weeks so do make sure to follow along on Instagram as I’ll cover everything from knowing when your baby is ready, to nutrient groups and food refusal and fussy eating. In the meantime, check out my weaning blogs for the blogs I have on these topics already!

Further reading & references

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmhealth/1496/1496.pdf

https://www.nct.org.uk/about-us/first-1000-days

https://www.unicef-irc.org/article/958-the-first-1000-days-of-life-the-brains-window-of-opportunity.html

https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2018-09/first_1000_days_-_rcpch_response_-_final.pdf

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