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The first 1,000 days

7-minute read

Key facts

  • The first 1,000 days refers to a child's life from the moment they are conceived until they reach 2 years of age (24 months).
  • A baby's experiences in their first 1,000 days of life can have a lifelong effect on their health and wellbeing.
  • Stress, trauma, poverty and violence experienced during the first 1000 days can have long term adverse health effects on a baby.
  • It is important to provide your baby with good nutrition, safety and security and a loving home environment, especially during the first 1000 days.

What is 'the first 1,000 days'?

The first 1,000 days refers to a child's life from the moment they are conceived until they reach 2 years of age (24 months). This is a time when their brain, body and immune system grows and develops significantly.

During pregnancy, your health, nutrition and stress levels can have an effect on your baby’s future. After your baby is born, their physical environment, nutrition and relationships can have a lifelong impact on their health and wellbeing.

In their first 1,000 days, your baby will need:

  • healthy food
  • loving relationships
  • safety and security
  • time to play
  • a healthy environment — including in the womb

How does my baby's brain grow in the first 1,000 days?

Your baby's brain develops more quickly during the first 1,000 days than at any other time of life. The way their brain adapts to its environment contributes to the sort of person they will grow into.

The right diet (nutrition) during pregnancy and in early childhood will help your baby's learning, physical skills and emotions to develop properly.

Being hungry or exposed to stress or abuse during this time can have a lifelong effect on a child's development. An unsafe or unhealthy environment in the first 1,000 days can affect a child's physical health in later life too.

Why is good nutrition in the first 1,000 days important?

Receiving good nutrition in the womb and through early life is essential for your child's future health. When you’re pregnant, your weight and lifestyle habits can influence how your baby's metabolism, immune system and organs develop. Poor nutrition during pregnancy and early life can lead to obesity, heart disease and stroke later on.

To give your baby the best possible start in life, it's important to eat a healthy diet while you're pregnant and to breastfeed if possible. Once your baby starts solids, you can help them develop healthy eating habits for life.

Do stress and trauma in the first 1,000 days have an effect?

If you experience a lot of stress while pregnant, your baby's nervous system and growth can be affected. This can lead to health problems later in life, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.

Of course, often stress and trauma are unavoidable. It's not your fault if you experience trauma, and help is available. If you are facing a very stressful situation when you're pregnant or you have a young child, speak to your doctor or child health nurse.

Why are safety and security important for my child in the first 1,000 days?

Loving, secure relationships are vital for your child's development. It's through their relationships that babies learn to think, understand, communicate, show emotions and behave. Relationships affect how they see the world and help them understand how they fit into society.

Playing, singing, reading and talking to your baby are all important ways to help them to feel safe and loved.

Stress caused by violence in the home can affect babies. Parents who are experiencing family (domestic) violence may have difficulty forming a loving attachment with their baby.

Call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) at any time of the day or night if you or someone close to you are experiencing emotional abuse or violence.

How can I address poverty during my child’s first 1,000 days?

There is a link between poverty in infancy and adverse health and wellbeing outcomes later in life. This may be partly because the stress on parents caused by financial hardship can prevent them from providing the level of care their baby needs.

If you are experiencing poverty, there are things you can do to help your baby build resilience in the first 1,000 days:

What can I do to give my baby the best start?

To ensure the best possible first 1,000 days for your baby:

  • Eat a healthy diet when you're pregnant
  • Avoid smoking, alcohol or drugs
  • If you're experiencing violence or trauma, seek help
  • Breastfeed for at least 6 months, if you can
  • Make sure your baby has a healthy diet
  • Give your baby lots of love and attention so they feel secure

Where can I go for help?

For more information about the first 1,000 days, visit these websites:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

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Need more information?

First 1000 days: conception to two years | Raising Children Network

The first 1000 days of life are key to lifelong health and wellbeing.

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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