Nutrition in the first 1000 days of life: What does my child need to stay healthy?
Nutrition for the first 1000 days of life has been greatly researched. This critical time affects how a child develops, grows, and learns for their entire lifespan.
The first 1000 days of life include the day of conception to the child’s second birthday. Pregnancy is included in the first 1000 days of life because this period of time is extremely important for development and growth. Irreversible damage can be done during this stage of life. For example, a pregnant woman with insufficient folate could give birth to a child with defects such as neural tube abnormalities.
Inadequate nutrition is one of the main concerns during this time of growth. When a mother is poorly nourished, she cannot pass along enough vitamins, minerals, and other aspects of nutrition to her baby during pregnancy. This can result in having an underweight child, an increased risk of infections, or other complications.
Research has shown that one in four children globally are chronically malnourished, leading to stunted growth, both physically and mentally1. Nutrition during pregnancy is crucial since all of these issues can be easily avoided with proper diet. Overfeeding is another concern during this time of life because it has been found to lead to weight issues later in the child’s life2. Here are important ways that you can ensure a healthy first 1000 days for your child:
Iron folate supplements during pregnancy
The most common nutritional disorder in the world, iron deficiency, can lead to maternal mortality, premature birth, low birth weight, and anemia. Iron deficiency anemia leads to a lowered resistance to disease and a weakened ability to learn and grow (for the child). This can be easily avoided by taking an iron and folate (or combination supplement), before and during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about what is recommended for you.
Breastfeeding in the first two years of life are extremely crucial to a child’s long-term health. Breastmilk provides all nutrients that a baby needs for proper development. It also provides antibodies to fight common illnesses and has been found to help with reduced susceptibility to allergies. It is recommended to breastfeed exclusively for the child’s first 6 months of life and then slowly introduce food, while continuing to breastfeed up to the child’s second birthday. Children who are breastfed during the first 6 months of life have been found to be 6 times more likely to survive than children who are not breastfed during this time.
Vitamin D supplements
Having sufficient vitamin D during pregnancy is important because it helps ensure proper levels of calcium and phosphorous are present in the body, which help to build the baby’s bones3. It has also been found that a deficiency in vitamin D leads to preeclampsia (which is a condition during pregnancy characterized by high blood pressure). How much vitamin D should you take? That’s still up for debate, but one study found that taking 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily resulted in the least number of complications. Breastfed infants under 1 year of age are recommended to take a vitamin D supplement with a daily dose of 400 IU. For children over the age of 1 year, 600 IU is the daily requirement of vitamin D.
Vitamin A supplements
A deficiency in vitamin A can lead to irreversible damage to the cornea, which could lead to partial or total blindness1. Vitamin A can be obtained from foods such as sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, squash, kale, and spinach. For those children who do not have access to proper nutrition, a vitamin A supplement is often recommended.
Water, sanitation, and hygiene
Safe drinking water, proper sanitation, and hygiene are important for everyone, especially children under the age of 2 since they are still developing their immune systems. Having access to clean drinking water should be available to everyone, along with having resources to clean the water and hand washing stations.
Zinc for diarrhea
Diarrhea is a major concern in developing countries, as it is the cause of 1.3 million deaths of children each year. Most of these deaths occur within the first 6 months and 2 years of age. Diarrhea causes vital nutrients to be lost from the body which can lead to malnutrition, which in turn, decreases the body’s ability to fight infection, making diarrhea episodes more frequent. Taking a zinc tablet with oral rehydration of electrolytes can help a child recover quickly.
 Harrigan, P., Lapping K. 2012. Save the Children. Nutrition in the first 1000 days. https://www.savethechildren.org/atf/cf/%7B9def2ebe-10ae-432c-9bd0-df91d2eba74a%7D/STATEOFTHEWORLDSMOTHERSREPORT2012.PDF
 Karratti, D. 2015. Livestrong. How Poor Nutrition Affects Child Development. https://www.livestrong.com/article/465374-how-poor-nutrition-affects-child-development/
 American Pregnancy Association. 2016. Vitamin D and Pregnancy. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/vitamin-d-and-pregnancy/