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First 1,000 days of child’s life are crucial for development, group says

Nutrition may be one of the most critical pieces in a baby’s development. Beginning from conception through the second birthday, the first 1,000 days can influence health for years to come.

Lucy Martinez Sullivan, executive director of the nonprofit organization 1,000 Days, said that time period is an important window for a child’s development.

“We are a mom-founded, mom-led organization,” Sullivan said. “What happens in those 1,000 days lasts a lifetime.”

Beginning during pregnancy, mom’s nutrition can influence baby’s brain development, Sullivan said.

“The absence of certain nutrients in pregnancy can have a pretty devastating impact on children,” she said.

One example is folic acid, a nutrient that plays a crucial role in preventing neural tube defects.

“A baby’s brain continues to grow at an incredibly rapid rate for the first two years,” Sullivan said.

After birth, nourishment comes in the form of nutrition but also in other ways, such as a parent’s interactions with baby.

“That’s a way to nourish a baby’s growth and development – the way you talk and play with them,” Sullivan said.

The first 1,000 days can also set the stage for health even in adulthood, influencing predispositions to obesity, diabetes and other conditions, Sullivan said.

“A lot of a baby’s health and metabolism is actually programmed during that first 1,000 days,” she said. “The first 1,000 days are also really important for mom.”

Sullivan noted the health benefits for mothers and babies when mom chooses to and is able to breastfeed.

“The longer women breastfeed, the less likely they are to be exposed to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart disease,” she said.

Nutrient deficiency in children is not limited to developing countries.

“In this country, I think we take for granted that nutrition isn’t a problem,” Sullivan said. “It reality, that’s not the case. The diets of babies and toddlers mirror the adult American diet (with too much salt and fat). That sets them up for problems later in life.”

1,000 Days stresses the importance of prenatal care, including prenatal vitamins, the “Goldilocks zone” of weight gain – enough but not too much – in pregnancy, as well as the health benefits of breastfeeding.

“Breast milk really is the best nutrition that a baby can get,” Sullivan said. “For moms that want to breastfeed, start as early as possible to set up your support network. If you decide to formula feed, make sure you are also taking care of yourself.”

Sullivan said parents should talk with a pediatrician to ensure that first foods and a toddler’s overall diet include the nutrients that will promote healthy development. Included in her recommendations are no juice in the first year and no added sugars before age 2.

“There’s a lot that happens in that first two years in terms of taste preferences,” she said.

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