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The first 1,000 days, from the point of conception to your child’s 2nd birthday, is a vital period for establishing the foundations of their health for life. However, so much of this starts before they’re even conceived!
Technically, the first 1,000 days are from the point of conception to your child’s 2nd birthday. However, from a nutritional perspective, it starts 3 months before this in the preconception period when we’re optimising our nutritional levels for conception.
The first 1,000 days is a period of critical development for your little one, in almost every area of their life. Your child’s ability to develop, learn, and thrive is significantly impacted by how well or how poorly their mother and they themselves are fed and cared for throughout this period. It is the most crucial time for the development of their body, brain, metabolism, and immune system. As a consequence, failure to provide adequate nutrition in these first 1,000 days increases the risk of health concerns, such as obesity, and cardiovascular, metabolic and endocrine diseases, in childhood and adulthood. In preparation for this rapid growth, development, and genetic programming, it’s important for our nutrient levels to be optimal at the point of conception in preparation.
During conception, your child will inherit genes from you as the parents that will guide their development. A child may have a combination of genes that predisposes them to a particular health condition or behaviour, but they never develop the condition or behaviour because they aren’t exposed to the particular trigger for the condition, and thus the gene remains ‘dormant’. The environment which supplies the triggers impacts, positively and negatively, how genes are expressed. This is epigenetics.
Epigenetic changes start to occur shortly after conception and continue to occur during pregnancy and early childhood. Young people are particularly sensitive to epigenetic changes as their brain is still developing. Epigenetic changes during this time influences if, when, and how genes release their instructions for future health. Nutrition and health care during pregnancy, infanthood, and toddlerhood changes the expression of your children’s genes.
According to specialists, a child’s developing brain and body suffer irreparable damage from insufficient nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life. While some nutritional deficiencies can be corrected later on, they are significantly more challenging to correct after the age of 2. The earlier the timing of the deficiency, the more likely long-term effects are to occur.
Inadequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days can contribute to:
The food preferences, nutritional patterns and the relationship with food are developed in the first 1,000 days and establish the foundation for good or poor health in later childhood and adulthood. Flavours are known to cross the amniotic fluid, so your little one is developing taste preferences in the womb!
Endocrine disruptors are natural or man-made chemicals that mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones, known as the endocrine system. These chemicals, found in many everyday products, are linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems.
As a fetus, infant, and toddler, your little one may have enhanced sensitivity to endocrine disruptors due to the rapid period of development they’re in and greater exposure as a result of developmentally appropriate behaviour, like putting things in their mouth! Endocrine disruptors may increase the risk of childhood neurodevelopmental disorders by interfering with thyroid hormone signaling or metabolism, which is associated with reduced cognitive abilities, ADHD symptoms, and an increased risk of autism. Early life endocrine disruptor exposures may interrupt the neuroendocrine systems involved in growth, energy metabolism, appetite, the formation of fat cells (adipogenesis), and the regulation of blood glucose levels. This increases the risk of childhood obesity, cardiometabolic dysfunction, and liver dysfunction.
Paternal nutrition in the preconception period impacts changes in testicular and sperm epigenetic regulation and status, seminal plasma composition, and maternal reproductive tract responses, which regulate early embryo and fetus development. Dad’s nutritional status has been connected to the future child’s health, in particular:
In preconception, it is important to get a range of nutrients, primarily from whole foods where possible, alongside a high-quality prenatal supplement. For Dad, in preconception, it’s important to prioritise nutrients needed for the development of healthy sperm and semen.
Poor maternal and child health outcomes, particularly poor birth outcomes, are linked to inadequate maternal nutrition during conception, during pregnancy, and after delivery. For Mum, in preconception, it’s important to prioritise nutrients needed for egg quality, preparing the uterine lining for implantation and the development of the embryo and placenta. We also want to increase levels of nutrients that will be in high demand later on to prevent deficiencies.
During pregnancy, the nutritional requirements for Mum change each trimester reflecting the development of the baby. It is important to be eating a balanced diet, with enough energy, protein, iron, iodine and folate in particular. In the third trimester, it’s important to start preparing nutritionally for childbirth and breastfeeding, if choosing to breastfeed.
In the postnatal period, the focus is on recovery for Mum and, if choosing to breastfeed, ensuring appropriate nutritional intake to support this. This includes consuming adequate protein, carbohydrates, iron, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, choline, iodine, selenium, omega 3, folate and calcium.
If you’re interested in taking any supplements, please discuss this with your practitioner to ensure you’re taking the correct dose and form for you. This article is not intended to be medical advice and is purely for education purposes.