While the seeds of growth and development of baby are planted in utero, the roots of healthy growth and development lie in the first 1000 days of life. These first 1000 days, that is from conception to two years, are the most crucial ones when it comes to baby’s healthy mind and body. This means everything from nutrition to intellectual and physical growth and development happens in these initial days.
Why the first 1000 days?
According to research data, a baby’s brain consists of 10 billion cells which work in isolation and in collaboration with each other and are responsible for various developmental aspects like - emotional, physical, cognitive, social and sensory. These cells thrive on mother’s nutrition when in womb and after birth through breastfeeding and later with external or complementary nutrition. Negligence in any of these aspects can affect a baby’s development and result in either birth defects or malnutrition related health issues.
A baby’s brain makes 700 neural connections per second in the first year after birth and reaches 80% of adult brain size by the time he/she is three. This implies that baby’s brain development is the fastest in the first 1000 days after birth.Nutrition plays a vital role in functioning of these neural connections and hence malnutrition or over nutrition, both can hamper brain development and brain function. It wont be surprising to say that the roots of some complex and obvious behaviorals are laid down very early in life.While the young brain is more moldable and prone to correction to all sorts of insults and abuse, the window of opportunity definitely starts narrowing down as the child grows.
How to make the best of these 1000 days?
Baby’s nutrition quality is directly proportional to the quality of his/her brain development. It is important that baby gets a balanced nutrition in first 2-5 years of his/her life. This means a diet rich in Iron, Calcium, Iodine, DHA, Folate, Vitamins and other minerals should be administered for baby diligently. This also means that it is of utmost importance for a mother to be to consume a diet that is accomplished with all these nutrients. If mother eats healthy, baby’s health gets taken care of. Once baby starts supplements and solids, these nutrients should continue to be part of his/her diet in required quantities. WHO and Amercian Associations of Pediatrics strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for first 3-6 months. Breastmilk is the most natural and complete source of nutrition for babies.
Bonding and Interaction
While nutrition plays a major role in first 1000 days, interaction and bonding with baby plays an equally vital role in baby’s personality development which includes social, emotional, physical, cognitive and sensory development. This means that not only mother, but every member in the family should be involved with baby whether by means of constant interaction with baby, doing chores for baby or playing.
When you communicate with baby and maintain an eye contact, it helps baby connect well and develop emotional bonding. Similarly exposing baby to an environment which is full of opportunities to explore will stimulate baby’s senses and enhance his/her overall development. Some of these opportunities include introducing age appropriate toys at the right time, getting him/her to be part of a social environment of peer age group, giving ample outdoor exposure and creating a positive and holistic environment at home where baby’s brain can thrive.
Not just the first 1000 days but the first 5 years of a baby’s life is considered as the boom period of baby’s brain development. We should make the best of this window and expose and nourish with the best of everything from health and wisdom to our baby to reap the long term benefits.
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