Why is the 1000-day window for child growth and development important?
Congratulations! You are a mom now! However, your excitement is probably accompanied by a bit of nervousness and confusion as well, right? If you are a first-time mom, you are probably looking for even the smallest of advices that can help your child to grow well and develop healthily. And in this regard, the first 1000 days of your baby’s life need the maximum attention. Wondering why? This article elaborates on why the first 1000 days are crucial for your little one’s overall development and what you should feed him to achieve the necessary milestones.
What is the significance of the first 1000 days?
The first 1000 days of a child’s life, starting from conception and going on till the child’s second birthday, are crucial for his neurodevelopment and mental health. It is characterized by rapid rates of neuronal proliferation, growth and differentiation, myelination and synaptogenesis.
During the first 1000 days, brain development is vulnerable to nutritional deficiency. Adequate nutrition during pregnancy, infancy and early childhood are hence important for the overall growth and the development of the baby.
Poor nutrition during this period can be detrimental to the child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Nutritional gaps during this period can also lead to obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic condition during the later stages of life. Malnutrition is a significant challenge in developing countries like India, and it can lead to high mortality rates as well.
You might already know that during pregnancy, your baby is dependent on your nutritional intake, as the nutrients helped create neurons, myelin and fatty matter. These nutrients are also important for the formation of synapses which determine the child’s learning ability in future.
What nutrients are essential for foetal brain development?
The foetus will need specific nutrients for brain development, like protein, zinc, iron, choline, folate, iodine, vitamins A, D, B6 and B12, and fatty acids. Iron is essential for the formation of a protective sheath around the nerve fibres, called myelin. On the other hand, development of the autonomic nervous system, hippocampus, and cerebellum depends on zinc. Polyunsaturated fatty acids support brain and eyes development. And folate is important for the development of the brain and spine.
Hence, mothers should get sufficient nutrition from food sources to support the neurodevelopmental processes. Since the baby is dependent on the mother’s nutrient stores, nutritional gaps can lead to developmental delays, birth defects, and cognitive deficits. A good example is the deficiency of folate, which can cause defects of the brain and spine, and also lead to death or lifelong disability of the baby.
Nutrition during the first 1000 days of life
Although all nutrients are vital, protein, iron and zinc are important for a child’s brain development during the first 1000 days. Deficiency of iron can significantly influence the child’s growth and development and can lead to problems with learning, social, and emotional behaviour, and interest in games. Deficiency of iron can also increase anxiety and depression later in life. Zinc deficiency can cause stunted growth as well as skin and eye lesions. Lack of sufficient protein in the mother’s or child’s diet can hamper muscle and bone development, weaken immune functions, and even affect the mental health of the baby.
Hence, mothers need to consume protein-rich foods like chicken, eggs, fish, beans, and legumes. The same should be slowly introduced to your child after he reaches 6 months. For iron, whole grain cereals, nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and leafy green veggies should be considered apart from animal-based foods. Zinc can be obtained from dairy products, shellfish, legumes, seeds and nuts.
To conclude, both the mother and the baby should be well-nourished during the first 1000 days of the baby’s life so that the child can achieve optimal development prior to birth as well as later on. During pregnancy and lactation, what you eat will be of paramount importance, as the nutrients will get passed on via the placenta or breast milk. After your baby becomes 6 months of age, you will need to provide him with nutrient-dense complementary foods.