Getting it right in the first 1000 days

Published on Tuesday, 07 November 2017
Last updated on Thursday, 21 January 2021

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A new evidence paper, which will be of great interest to early childhood providers, highlights the astonishing rates of child development from conception to the end of age two and the benefit of a holistic approach to children's health.

The Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days report, prepared by the Centre for Community Child Health, with researchers from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), has shown that young children are affected in multiple ways, including through biology, their experiences, environment and diet, their parent's health and lifestyle during pregnancy, and the broader community.

Key findings in the report revealed that a foetus uses 'cues' provided by their mother's physical and mental states to 'predict' the kind of world it will be born into, and how to adapt accordingly.

Lead author of the First Thousand Days report, Dr Tim Moore, said this adaptation could be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the child's relationships and environments.

"Children need to feel calm, safe and protected. When this attachment process is interrupted, the child's brain places an emphasis on developing neuronal pathways that are associated with survival, before developing those that are essential to future learning and growth."

The report stresses the importance of children's development beyond the brain to all bodily structures including the immune, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. Disadvantage can also be passed down through the generations at a cellular level, with biology changing in response to stress, poverty and other prolonged adverse experiences. These changes can be passed on to children from their parents and grandparents.

According to the researchers, children can only develop as well as their families, communities and broader society enable them, and MCRI Research Group Leader in Policy, Equity and Translation Professor Frank Oberklaid said the evidence paper highlights that parents cannot raise healthy, happy children on their own.

"Along with loving relationships, children need safe communities, secure housing, access to green spaces, environments free from toxins, and access to affordable, nutritious foods. This requires whole-of-society efforts and appropriate investment," said Professor Frank Oberklaid.

While the paper stressed that the ability to alter and change the impacts of negative experiences in the first thousand days becomes more difficult as a child gets older, it is certainly not impossible to make improvements as children grow and develop.

"After 1000 days the different effects on children begin to taper off. It's not the end of the world, it just becomes harder to change. We don't want parents to feel like 'what have I done?', it’s about encouraging everyone to think about the importance of this time period, and how the whole of society should consider this responsibility," Dr Moore said.

For more information read Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days.

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