How to change your baby’s future in the first 1,000 days

By Jane Barry, Philips Avent

New, ground-breaking research from the University of Queensland has highlighted just how vital the first 1,000 days is to your baby’s development. From conception to approximately two years old you have the power to set your baby on the best path for their future development and growth.

The research has delved into how parents’ lifestyle are affecting children from the womb to the playground. The findings are changing how parents perceive their health and the affect it will have on future generations.

You get out what you put in!

Your baby becomes what you eat.

Pregnancy is a time of great dependence for your baby, your diet is their only source of nutrition - they have no other nutritional options other than exposure to your food choices.  Your diet will have a direct effect on the formation of your baby’s organs, nervous system and physiological state.

The damaging effects on a baby of poor nutrition during their gestation period can’t be reversed; A poor maternal diet or exposure to environmental toxins can create lifelong adaptive changes in the baby.

Pregnant women need to do all they can to maximise their growing baby’s chances of having a healthy and long life - it’s almost too late by the time your baby is actually eating solid food.

What I need to know about my baby’s nutrition

From womb to playground.

Your baby’s appetite is programmed during your pregnancy. What you eat will have a direct influence on your baby’s tastes and what they’ll like to eat when they’re eating solid food. So it pays to be proactive and make smart decisions about your diet.

Eating a healthy diet while your baby is still growing will mean they are less likely to be overweight or obese as adults. Stay within a healthy weight range and to check your BMI (Body Mass Index). It’s important to weigh yourself regularly and aim not to gain too much weight in the first half of your pregnancy, doing this will decrease the chances of your baby being overweight. While many say you’re eating for two during your pregnancy, this is not the case. You only need to increased your calorie intake during the last few months of pregnancy not throughout.

We’re all guilty of snacking in between meals but there’s real value in stopping. Instead, eat three main meals a day and limit yourself to just two healthy snacks. Protein at each main meal will help keep your hunger at bay, and while we’re on the subject of protein, make sure you eat enough of it. Just this simple habit will reduce the risk of your child seeking high fat foods and potentially becoming overweight.

Focus on eating a diet high in vegetables and fruit, nuts, legumes, pulses and beans. Don’t ignore both red and white meat as well as fish. These are all excellent protein sources.

The moment you find out you’re pregnant is the moment you should stop smoking. Parental smoking is linked with a range of health problems, including allergies, growth and development.

The hard work begins once your baby arrives

As we know, breastfeeding is the best option for your baby. Feeding this way supports optimum growth, increases immunity and gut health, helps ensure a healthy weight range and will reduce your risk factors for a range of health issues. If you can’t breastfeed then consider offering your baby expressed breast milk as an alternative.

If breastfeeding is not working for you then the only safe alternative is baby formula up to the age of 12 months. Choose a formula with a low protein concentration as high protein intake can lead to babies becoming overweight and obese.

As you move off of the breast and onto solids at around six months of age, make sure you introduce iron, zinc and protein rich foods. These essential foods and nutrients will help your baby’s brain growth and set their development on the right path. Make sure your baby is offered a wide range of healthy and nutritious foods. 

Aim to feed your baby home-cooked foods, these meals taste better, have more texture and contain more nutrition than store-bought baby food. While many people say that you shouldn’t give your baby eggs and peanut butter, research has shown that feeding your babies these foods in their first year will help protect against allergies in the future.

Avoid offering purees for too long because chewing helps to support your baby’s speech development. Increase the texture of your baby’s solid food when they are developmentally ready and be sensitive to your baby’s hunger cues. Turning away, closing their mouth, fussing and not swallowing any more food are all signs of fullness, don’t force a baby to eat when they are exhibiting these behaviours.

While your baby is developing, you should keep a close eye on their growth. Percentile charts are the best way of monitoring a baby’s weight, head circumference and length. Speak to your healthcare practitioner to ensure your baby is developing at a normal pace.

Introduce your baby to a spout or sipper cup at around six months and try to stop all bottles at around 12 months.  

Remember, you are your child’s leader, teacher and biggest influence in life. Make every effort to do the best job possible in the first 1,000 days to instill good habits and successful development. 

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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