Have you heard of the first 1000 days?

Author: Belinda Martin, Accredited Practising Dietitian | PREGNANCY NUTRITION

The first 1000 days is the period of development from conception to 2 years of age. We have always known that this is an important time for development, but researchers have now discovered that what happens in the womb and throughout the first two years of life has a profound impact over the course of a lifetime. How genes, experiences and environments interact with each other even in the embryonic and foetal phase of development have lasting effects into adulthood. This research also emphasises that the health of BOTH MOTHER AND FATHER prior to conception is extremely important and can affect the integrity of the embryo right from the beginning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in February 2018 advocating specifically for improving NUTRITION in the first 1000 days to support childhood development and adult health. It states that maternal prenatal nutrition and the child’s nutrition in the first 1000 days of life is crucial in a child’s neurodevelopment (brain development) and mental health. The risk of the child developing obesity, hypertension and diabetes as a child or adult may be programmed by nutritional status during this time period.

Although all nutrients are necessary for brain growth, there are some key nutrients required for optimal brain development. These include protein, iron, folate, iodine, choline and vitamins A, D, B6, and B12 as well as long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

What does this mean in practical terms for PRECONCEPTION NUTRITION?

Food and Exercise

Eating a fresh, well balanced, low fat and high fibre diet ensures that you are in the best possible state to have a baby. Variety is the spice of life. Eating a variety of foods from the five food groups -breads, cereals and grains; dairy and dairy alternatives; meat and meat alternatives (lentils, beans, nuts, eggs), fruits and vegetables, will ensure you get a variety of key vitamins and minerals for baby’s optimal brain development. Sensible regular exercise is important to keep you healthy. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Long -chain polyunsaturated fatty acids

The following fish have low mercury levels and are also high in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids; canned salmon and canned tuna in oil, Atlantic salmon, herring, mackerel, silver wareho, sardines. Walnuts and flaxseed are also a good food sources of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. The jury is still out on supplementation but watch this space as there has been a recent Cochrane review regarding the possibility of omega 3 supplementation reducing the risk of preterm birth.


If you drink alcohol now is a good time to start slowing down and to stop drinking. We still don’t have enough detailed information about the effects of alcohol on your growing baby throughout pregnancy, but we know it can cause harm to the foetal brain. It is still not known whether the effects of alcohol are dose related or only occur above a certain level of drinking. The evidence and advice is still to avoid alcohol during the preconception phase, during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding.


Aim to have no more than 200 mg/day of caffeine. More than this has been shown to increase risk of miscarriage, preterm labour, long labour and low birth weight, which could make a difference for a baby who is already at risk of these problems. If you drink coffee, limit it to two cups per day. If you drink tea, don’t go over four cups per day.

Folic Acid

Folic acid or Folate is needed for the growth and development of your baby. It is especially important in the month before you fall pregnant and the first trimester (three months) of pregnancy. Making sure you have enough folate reduces the risks of your baby being born with some abnormalities, like spina bifida (a disorder where the baby’s spinal cord does not form properly). Foods high in folate include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, bok choy, and salad greens, some fruits and cereals and breads with added folic acid. It is recommended that all women planning a pregnancy and in the early stages of pregnancy should eat a variety of folate-containing foods (listed above) PLUS take a folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms per day at least one month before and three months after you become pregnant.  If you have diabetes, are taking anti-epileptic medication, are overweight or have a family history of neural tube defects, you may be at a higher risk and should discuss this with your doctor – you may need a higher dose of folic acid than the usual 400 microgram recommendation.


Iodine is needed in higher amounts during pregnancy and it is essential for your baby’s growth and brain development. All women planning a pregnancy, pregnant or breastfeeding should take a supplement containing 150 micrograms of iodine per day. It’s still important to eat good food sources of iodine in addition to this supplement. These food sources include vegetables, bread with added iodine, seafood, and eggs. Women who have thyroid problems should talk to their doctor prior to taking a supplement.

Being a healthy weight will help you conceive

Hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation can occur in women who are both overweight and underweight and may cause problems with fertility. Women who are overweight take longer to conceive. Being very overweight or obese can also reduce a man’s fertility. So getting healthy BEFORE trying for a baby is an excellent start for the whole family!

For more individualised advice on preconception nutrition or nutrition during pregnancy, book in to see us.

About the Author

Belinda Martin is a Perth Dietitian specialising in pregnancy nutrition, infant nutrition and paediatric nutrition. She is the co-founder of Advanced Dietitians Group and loves working with people and families. She has been a dietitian for 20 years. She has worked as a Senior Dietitian and Paediatric Dietitian in various teaching hospitals in Western Australia and the United Kingdom. When she is not working, she is trying to tame a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old (and a 40+ year old) at home.

About Advanced Dietitians Group

Advanced Dietitians Group was founded in 2014 by Belinda Martin and Ingrid Roche, Perth dietitians with a combination of over 40 years’ experience in the industry. Both dietitians have a range of experience across the lifespan but specialise in paediatric nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, infant nutrition and allergies. They provide up to date evidence-based nutrition advice. This coupled with their wealth of experience in dietetics ensures you get the best possible nutrition service. They get a buzz out of helping their clients and their families.

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