Why Nutrition During First 1,000 Days Of Life Is Considered Window Of Opportunity

Aween Nazir


The first 1,000 days of life, the time span roughly between conception and one’s second birthday, are crucial for the future of any human being. It is a unique period of opportunity when the foundations for optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established. In developing countries like Pakistan, poverty and its attendant condition, malnutrition, has weaken this foundation, leading to earlier mortality and significant morbidities such as poor health, and more insidiously, substantial loss of neurodevelopmental potential.

Nutrition plays a crucial role during this phase of life. An increasing body of evidence suggests that poor nutrition during the first 1000 days of life may increase the risk of developing non-communicable diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, later in life. Hence adequate nutrition during pregnancy and the first two years of life has a profound effect on a child’s development.

Malnutrition – A major problem

Till this day, malnutrition is mainly a huge problem faced not only in Pakistan but also across the world. Malnutrition is deeply related with the 1000 thousand days of a child’s life. Poor nutrition during this time span leaves a lifetime impact on child’s life. If proper care is taken during this time period, millions of lives can be secured all around the globe. Malnutrition early in life can cause irreversible damage to children’s brain development and their physical growth, leading to a diminished capacity to learn, poorer performance in school, greater susceptibility to infection and disease and a lifetime of lost earning potential.

Prevalence of Malnutrition in Pakistan (All Children<5)

According to National Nutritional Survey (NNS) 2011, In Pakistan 43.7 percent children <5 were stunted (Low Height-for-age). In rural area the stunting in children was high (46.3%) than in urban area (36.9%). Wasting (Low Weight-for-height) rate was 15.1 percent and fewer children were wasted in urban areas (12.7%) as compared with rural areas (16.1%). 31.5 percent of the children were underweight, with higher rates in rural areas (33.3%). The indicators of malnutrition appeared to be higher in rural areas than in urban areas. This situation contributes to high mortality and morbidity rates among children under 5 years of age, undermining their mental and physical growth and leading to significant economic impact on the country’s development and prosperity.



Everyone knows you need to make changes to your diet and lifestyle during pregnancy but do you know why? What you choose to eat and drink while pregnant will have a huge effect on your baby before they’re born and will have lifelong effects on their health. Remember, the food you eat and drink now, will matter to your baby’s health forever.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintain a Healthy Weight before and during pregnancy. An average weight gain during the 9 months of pregnancy is between 25-35lbs (11.5-16kg). If you are overweight, you should put on a little less weight while pregnant. Being overweight puts you at a greater risk of getting diabetes or high blood pressure during your pregnancy. It can also put your baby at risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes when they grow up. So eat a range of healthy, fresh foods to support your growing pregnancy.

Importance of Folic Acid

Folic acid is the most important nutrient to include pre-conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This B-vitamin prevents spina bifida, so be sure to take a 400µg folic acid supplement for the first 12 weeks, boosting your diet further with green leafy vegetables, as well as foods fortified with folic acid such as some milks and breakfast cereals.

Importance of Iron

Iron is a key nutrient for your baby’s brain development and it is also important for your increased blood volumes during pregnancy. You should aim to eat iron-rich foods twice a day during your pregnancy. Iron-rich foods include: red meat, chicken.

Importance of Calcium

Calcium is essential for the development of your baby’s skeleton and to keep your own bones healthy and strong. The best source of calcium is from milk and milk-based products such as yoghurt and cheese. Other sources of calcium include spinach, beans and seeds.


Importance of Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium and builds your baby’s stores of vitamin D too, so include foods such as oily fish, eggs or fortified milks in your diet.

Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for your baby’s brain, eye and nervous system development. Try to include oily fish in your diet once or twice a week. Other sources of omega-3 fats include seeds like pumpkin or sesame.


In the First 1000 Days, breastfeeding reduces your child’s chances of being obese. Breastfeeding is a core part of “getting it right” in terms of nutrition in the First 1000 Days. The World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life and to continue breastfeeding until 2 years of age or above. Breastfeeding is best for your baby now and benefits them throughout their whole life helping to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, type-2 diabetes risk and obesity when they grow up. Breastfed babies have also been shown to perform better on school tests in maths, reading and spelling when they are 10 years old. There are many benefits for mothers too, including a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer and lower rates of obesity later on in life.


Keep Hydrated

Drink at least eight glasses (2 liters) of water a day you need to stay well hydrated while you are breastfeeding. Pour yourself a large glass of ice cold water before you sit down to breastfeed.

Eat well while Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding your baby uses up roughly 300-500 extra calories a day so don’t skip meals and remember to eat nutritious snacks throughout the day. They don’t have to be fancy, a sliced banana on whole meal bread will give you a nutritious energy boost.



Importance of Vitamin D

Include vitamin D rich foods every day for you and your baby’s health. Choose eggs, oily fish and foods with added vitamin D regularly to ensure you are getting enough of this vital vitamin for heart, bone and long term health.


The introduction of solid foods is a very exciting stage of the First 1000 Days journey. It is a critical time to give your baby a wide variety of healthy food and textures, both essential to establish good eating habits now and into the future. The introduction of solid food should start at about 6 months of age. The exact timing should be dictated by your baby, but you should not introduce solid food into your baby’s diet before 4 months (17 weeks) of age, and weaning should start no later than 6 months (26 weeks) of age.

Accepting New flavour

Babies may need to try a new food 10 to 15 times before they accept it, so don’t give up! Remember early in the weaning process babies are more likely to accept new flavour so variety is the key from the very start. Remember your baby should never be left alone while eating.

Offer variety of foods

Once your baby has become used to eating from a spoon, offer lots of different fruits and vegetables, red meat, chicken and fish. This will stand to them for life.

Texture modification 

It is common for babies to “gag” as they move from purées to thicker textures. It can be scary when it happens but it is completely normal. As your baby gets used to the thicker texture it will gradually go away.

Introduce finger foods

Accepting finger foods is an important part of weaning. 6-7 months is the best time to introduce textures and finger foods to your baby’s diet. Your baby is more likely to accept changes in texture at this age.

Solid Food Options

Around 6 months

Suitable foods for around 6 months baby include Cereals e.g. baby rice, porridge, baby cereal. Puréed vegetables e.g. carrots, squash, potato. Peeled and puréed fruit e.g. banana and pear. Well cooked chicken, fish, meat and eggs. Consistency should be Smooth, thin purée without any lumps. Average meal size should include 5-10 teaspoons. Number of meals per day should be 2-3 meals/day.

6-9 months

Suitable foods for around 6-9 months baby include well-cooked eggs, chicken or mince. White and oily fish (boned and skinless). Yoghurt, pasteurized cheese, bread, pasta, noodles, rice. Consistency should be thick with soft lumps. Average meal size should include 2-4 tablespoons. Number of meals per day should be 3 meals/day.

9-12 months

Suitable foods for around 9-12 months baby include most family foods are now suitable but do not add sugar or salt. Finger Foods: mango, melon, banana, toast fingers, cheese, pasta shapes. Consistency should be Chunky, mashed texture, moving to chopped, bite size pieces. Average meal size should include 4-6 tablespoons. Number of meals per day should be 3 meals/day plus 2-3 snacks.


In the First 1000 Days, nutrition affects your child’s brain development forever. Your toddler’s brain is highly flexible in the early years of life. Giving your toddler the best possible food for their brain will ensure they can maximize their full potential now and right throughout their lives. Feeding your toddler with the right foods rich in iron and other important nutrients has a powerful impact on their brain development and future potential right throughout their lives.

Importance of iron

During the toddler years, your little toddler’s brain develops at an amazing rate. To power all that learning they need a healthy balanced diet, which includes plenty of iron. Include red meat, chicken, eggs, peas, beans, lentils and leafy green vegetables on a regular basis.



Importance of Vitamin D

Intakes of vitamin D are also generally low in these years indicating that many toddlers are at risk of missing out on this key nutrient for bone growth. Good dietary sources of vitamin D include eggs and oily fish.

Importance of Fortified cereals and milk

Specific foods such as fortified milks, fortified breakfast cereals and growing-up milks can be a helpful addition to your toddler’s diet and can boost intakes of important vitamins, for example iron and vitamin D.

Lead by example

Eating as a family is important toddlers learn by example and love to see what you are eating at the table. This will encourage them to have a wider, varied diet.

Good nutrition lays the foundation for healthy, thriving and productive communities and nations

The correct nutrition during this 1,000 day window influences not only whether the child will survive, but also has a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn and thrive   Good nutrition in the first 1,000 days lays the foundation for health, development, and even prosperity of the next generation. As such, it contributes to society’s long-term health, stability and prosperity.

Have you ever wondered what happens to those children who have been denied these critical advantages in their earliest days? And what happens to their societies?

When a child doesn’t have the appropriate access to food with high nutritional value, there is a risk that the child will fall behind on a developmental standard.

The impact of poor nutrition early in life has lasting effects that can transcend generations. This is seen throughout the world as malnourished women gives birth to malnourished daughters who grow up to become malnourished mothers themselves, thereby perpetuating the cycle. Malnutrition, low birth weight, miscarriage, defective cognitive development etc. are some of the major risks caused by inappropriate nutrition practice during this vital period.

When children miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, these failures come at a great cost to all of us. A cost measured in poor learning, lower wages, higher unemployment, increased reliance on public assistance and intergenerational cycles of poverty that weigh down economic and social progress for everyone. Working together, we must find ways to invest in programmes targeted at the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, focused on nutrition.

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