Smiling woman holding a happy infant

Written by University of Melbourne Masters of Science Communication students Jasmine McBain-Miller, Kimberley Meyers, Ashley Sroka and Bronwyn Wolfaardt under the guidance and direction of Associate Professor Jeff Craig.

1000 day head start

Every parent wants to give their child the best start to life, but with the overwhelming amount of information available for parents and parents-to-be it can be difficult to know what to trust.

Increasing evidence shows that the best time to invest in our children’s health is at the very start (conception). The message isn’t just for mothers; fathers, grandparents, and society all play a vital role in shaping the health and wellbeing of our children.

Chronic diseases such as depression, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are on the rise worldwide. In Australia alone, about half of the population suffer from a chronic disease. Our genes can put us at increased risk of these diseases, but hope is not lost. Environmental factors can change our risk. DNA is not our destiny - we have the ability to alter our child’s future and the health of future generations.

We now know more about the influence of early life factors on a child’s health. There is no more important time than from conception until the second birthday. These first 1000 days set the foundation for the child’s health throughout life.

Life’s most worthwhile investment

When it comes to preparing our children for successful and happy lives, no price is too great. Investing in your child’s well-being can go beyond choosing a good school or setting up a trust fund. The most worthwhile investment we can make is in our children’s future health. Steps made towards better health are beneficial in every stage of life, but when these efforts are made within the first 1000 days the benefits are much greater. Providing children with good nutrition and a safe environment not only creates the foundation for a healthier life, but encourages habits that will last a lifetime. By investing in the health of our children, we can create cultural changes to impact many generations to come. And like all worthwhile investments, it pays to start early.

Small changes, big impacts

It is well understood that good nutrition and exercise is important for the health of you and your developing baby. But your mental well-being is also essential during this time.

Stress, depression or anxiety experienced during pregnancy can have an impact on your baby, increasing their susceptibility to mental health problems growing up. Mindfulness can help relieve stress, reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety and ultimately increase the mental health resilience of our children. There are some fantastic resources available to help pregnant women be more mindful. Mindfulness techniques can even be taught to children later in life, as it has been shown to have positive developmental effects.

Connecting with nature and enjoying green spaces can also lead to better mental health outcomes for adults and children alike. Even a stroll through the park or time spent relaxing in the garden can improve wellbeing, helping minimise depression and anxiety.

It takes a village to raise a child

Society places a lot of pressure on mothers but it really does take a village to raise a child. To nurture the child, we must first provide a nurturing environment for pregnant mothers. The stress they experience can have serious impacts on the mental well-being of a child. Partners, grandparents, other family members and society all play a part in promoting the best possible outcomes.

The role of fathers goes beyond this, as the health choices he makes can have impacts on the health of his child - parents to be must work together and support each other in creating good health for their child.

Parents, particularly mothers, are faced with huge amounts of pressure and great expectations. But good parenting is not instinctive; you aren’t expected to know all the answers. So it comes down to the community helping where help is needed, to support from the very beginning the little humans soon to join us in the great wide world.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, illness still finds a way into our lives. But by following good habits of diet and exercise, taking time out for stress relief and providing healthy environments for expecting mothers, we make the greatest investment in the lives of our children. It’s important that we also seek the help of health professionals when things just don’t feel right. We all have the power to change our genes and shape the health of future generations - all it takes is an early start.

First 1,000 days infographic

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