What is the First Thousand Days?

A window of development to set the foundation for a child to reach his or her potential.

“The First Thousand Days” (FTD) refers to the window of time in a child’s life – from conception to their second birthday.  There is a growing body of research that demonstrates how important this time is for healthy growth and development – not just while that child is young, but all the way through their childhood and into adulthood. 

The brain during the First Thousand Days

This stage sees the brain develop at a once-in-a-lifetime pace. Neurons are connecting at a rate of a million times per second! Neural plasticity – the ability of the neurons to form connections for future learning – reaches its peak, declining later as the child grows.  

This rapid connection links together different parts of the brain so that we can perform not only day-to-day, but incredibly complex, tasks later in life like expressing our emotions, reasoning, applying logic, speaking a language, recognising faces and so on. The more integrated and widely connected the brain is, the more there is for the brain to build on for new learning. The foundations for future flourishing in language and literacy, social connections and emotional regulation are laid. 

A 2-year old’s brain is roughly 80% of its future adult size.

The First Thousand Days represent a critical window of time, never to be repeated. 

Investing in children during this stage is crucial, as it gives them the best possible foundation for health and learning. When investment is absent during the First Thousand Days, that foundation is compromised, with lifelong impacts.  

The right nutrition and care during the 1000-day window influences not only whether the child will survive, but also his or her ability to grow, learn and rise out of poverty. As such, it contributes to society’s long-term health, stability and prosperity.

(source: https://www.unicef.org/southafrica/media/551/file/ZAF-First-1000-days-brief-2017.pdf )

Factoids (from the source above)

  • Children who are exclusively breastfed are 14 times more likely to survive the first six months of life than non-breastfed children 
  • Nearly 40% of children do not receive all basic vaccinations 
  • 33 per cent of children aged 1-3 years are stunted (low height for age) 
  • 20 per cent of stunting begins in the womb 
  • Approximately 30 per cent of children from birth to age 4 lived in households that ran out of money to buy food 

Children who get the right nutrition in their First Thousand Days:

  • Are 10 times more likely to overcome the most life-threatening childhood diseases 
  • Complete 4.6 more grades at school  
  • Go on to earn 21% more in wages as adults  
  • Are more likely as adults to have healthier families