The beginning of a baby’s life is an exciting time for parents. But as parents we can often feel simultaneously overjoyed and overwhelmed at the idea of bringing a child into the world. There are many factors that impact a baby’s healthy development, and new research suggests their influence can happen as early as conception.
A new report1 funded by the Bupa Health Foundation in Australia, highlights just how crucial the first thousand days of a child’s life – from conception to two years old – are for their development.
The report, called The First Thousand Days, highlights the critical roles that nutrition, relationships, chemicals, bacteria and nature can play on healthy development.
Dr Tim Moore, a developmental psychologist and lead researcher for the study, says that our early experiences determine whether our developing brain can provide a strong or weak foundation for lifelong learning, behaviour and health.
The report shows that even before a baby is born, the foetus responds to its environment, using cues from its mother’s physical and emotional state to ‘predict’ the kind of world it will be born into – and its physical makeup changes accordingly.
And it's not just mothers who can influence development; co-parents play a critical role as well.
“Babies need to feel safe and secure,” says Dr Moore.
“They come out of the world hard wired to find the person who can provide that. They look for the faces that go with the voices that they’ve been hearing in the womb for the last few months of pregnancy. And they are attracted to those faces more than they are to other faces.” he says.
When they don’t feel calm, protected and safe, a child’s brain is more likely to develop neuronal pathways which are associated with survival, rather than those which are needed for learning and growth.
The Bupa Health Foundation in Australia recognises the importance of supporting parents and soon-to-be parents to give their children the best start to life.
Annette Schmiede, Executive Leader of the Bupa Health Foundation says: “Investing in healthy children is an investment in the future. If you’ve got a good start in life, you’ve got a great chance in having a longer, healthier, happier life.”
This impressive report is the first output of the First 1000 Days Partnership between the Bupa Health Foundation, Bupa ANZ, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth, and Pricewaterhouse Coopers Australia.
1 New research: unborn babies 'predict' the world they will live in