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The First 1000 Days of Life: Nutritional Tips

Every mother will have at least one thing in common: the desire to give their child the very best start of life. The first 1000 days, sound like a lot, does it? The fact is that the first 1000 days of life is between a woman’s pregnancy (9 months or 270 days) and her child’s 2nd birthday (365 days X 2 = 730 days).

Why the first 1000 days of life is important?

It is a very critical period for your little one’s growth, development and health as it can reduce the risk of developing various non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia at later life.

The first 1000 days of life offer a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier future generation. The right nutrition in the first 1000 days build the foundation for a child. It is a period of enormous potential, but also of enormous vulnerability. Adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood is fundamental to the development of each child’s full human potential.

It may be overwhelming when a mother discovered that she is pregnant. Imagine, you are a new mother. Congratulation! What an exciting time! You are a new mother and have a beautiful new baby to care for. It is important for both you and your baby that you take good care of yourself.

You have heard that you need to eat right, exercise, and rest whenever possible. But what does it mean to “eat right”, and can you do it? Yes, you can! Here are some tips to help even a busy mother like you make healthy food choices in daily routine.

You Don’t Need the “Perfect” Diet

In short, it comes down to three basic things.

First 1000 Days: Pregnancy.

Pregnant womanstanding by the window. Woman with big belly. Mom expecting a baby.

First, make sure that during pregnancy, eats a healthy, nutritious diets, takes prenatal vitamins and gets the medical care you and your baby need. Throughout the first 1000 days period, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding journey, you need to eat balanced, moderate and variety of food to meet all the nutrient requirement you need.

As you discovered that you are pregnant, go for antenatal booking early, it is best before 12 weeks of pregnancy. Do regular check-up according to the recommended clinic’s appointment and follow the given health care advices. Adequate information on breastfeeding is obtained so that you are well prepared and able to cope with breastfeeding journey later.

Breastfeeding mothers worry about eating right. Most of the time, they wonder if their diet is “good enough” to make enough milk and question whether their milk is good enough for their babies. Even if you have more than one baby, rest assured, mommies, your body is designed to make plenty of milk for your baby no matter what you eat!

First 1000 Days: Breastfeeding!

Beautiful woman holding a newborn baby in her arms

Second, as soon as baby is born and for the next six months of baby’s life, breastfeed! Giving baby breast milk, and only breast milk, in his or her first six months is the most powerful protection against infection and disease that a child could get, and this act of bonding host a lot more of other benefits for both mother and baby.

Eat nutritious and balance food will ensure you get your nutrients from food during the first 1000 days. Your body stores and stocks on nutrients in case you can’t eat right all the time. It is still important to eat right as much as you can so that your body will have nutrients to store.

You don’t have to have a “perfect” diet and yes you can have your occasionally cravings as long as you are aware of what you eat in moderation. Mothers with a wide variety of diets can provide nutritious milk for their babies.

In Malaysia, different races have different dietary guidelines according to diversity cultural backgrounds and beliefs. But generally, they all agree that it is important to eat a variety of foods that are low in sugar, caffeine, fats and salt. It is good to eat foods high in iron (such as meat, dark green vegetables and beans) and foods high in fiber (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans).

A good diet can help you maintain good health and to breastfeeding successfully. Eat for yourself as well as for your baby. Even you lead a busy lifestyle, remember never skip meal.

Eating For Two

Caring for a baby takes time and energy. More over if you need to care for twins or triplets. You may wonder whether you have enough left over to care of yourself! Pregnant mothers must ensure to maintain haemoglobin level at least 11gm% throughout their pregnancy in order to prevent from suffering signs and symptoms of anemia such as fatigues, weakness, pale skin, fast or irregular heartbeats, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness and cognitive problem. Initially, anemia can be so mild until it goes unnoticed. But these symptoms increase as anemia worsen.

You do not need to spend a lot of time and energy to eat right to harvest the benefits of the first 1000 days.

Here are some ideas for quick and healthy meals.

  • Add fruits to your breakfast in the morning.
  • Grab a handful of vegetables and choose a healthier salad dressing. Carrots, cucumber and cherry tomatoes don’t take much preparation. You can eat them as healthy snacks.
  • Add beans, nuts and seeds to your salad in your lunch or dinners.
  • Add dried fruits to your low-fat yogurt.
  • Eat a handful of nuts instead of donut (This is good source of protein, fiber and good fats).

Remember, it is always important to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. If fresh fruits and vegetables are not available, you can store frozen ones. It comes in handy when you ready to use them, you just need to thaw them before preparing meals.

Drink water when you are thirsty. Your body is made mostly of water. If you don’t drink enough water, you will be more easily tired.

As breastfeeding mothers, we should eat nutritious food just like when we are carrying our baby when pregnant. Rice, cereal, tubers are good sources of energy. Mothers need to eat adequately and choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates, e.g: brown rice over white rice.

Most importantly eat lots of vegetables and fruits, as they contain vitamin, mineral and phytonutrients that good for you and your baby. Drink milk and eat dairy product such as cheese and yogurt to cater your calcium requirement. Eat meat, fish and other protein foods in moderation.

Only A Few Babies Have Problems with Foods Their Mothers Eat

Many mothers who breastfeed worry that their baby is fussy because of something they have eaten. They may have heard of other mothers having this problem and may have been told not to eat certain foods. Some mothers have even told their baby may be “allergic” to their milk. The good news is most babies do not have a problem with the food their mother eats. Most mothers can eat many types of food and mothers who breastfeed do not need to change their diet.

Sometimes a baby can be bothered by a food his mother eats. He is not allergic to his mother’s milk, but he can react to something she eat (foods that may cause reactions are dairy, soy, egg, nuts, shellfish and wheat). Most mothers can keep breastfeeding if they stop eating the foods that bothers the baby.

Signs that your baby may be sensitive to a food you ate:

  • Fussiness
  • Rashes
  • Constant runny nose
  • Cough or wheezing
  • Failure to gain weight well
  • Stomach trouble like vomiting, hard poop or diarrhea

Most babies are only sensitive to foods when they are very young. A very few babies will be sensitive to citrus (oranges) or high acid (pineapple or tomatoes). If you think your baby has problems with foods you eat, stop eating that food. You will need to stop eating anything made with that food too.

Your body would be rid of the food you eat after a few days. It will take a week or two for cow’s milk protein to leave your body and your baby’s body. Watch your baby to see whether the problems get better when you stop eating the food for few days.

Does My Breastfed Baby Need Extra Vitamin D?

Breast milk is all that babies need for the first 6 months after they are born – or is it? It is true that exclusively breastfed babies don’t need to eat anything for 6 months except breast milk (they don’t need formula, solid foods or water). But you might heard some expert say you should give extra Vitamin D. So if breast milk is perfect – why do babies need Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is made by the skin in sunlight. Because expert say you should give your baby Vitamin D, it doesn’t mean your breast milk is lacking. Breast milk doesn’t contain much Vitamin D, few foods do – humans should be getting most Vitamin D from the sun. It is our modern living style, more than our diet, that usually lead to low levels of Vitamin D. Taking the baby outside even for short period of time in sunshine can raise Vitamin D levels very well[1].

This can be done in early morning or late evening to reduce risk of skin cancer due to over explosion to the sun. All babies need Vitamin D for normal growth and development regardless they are breastfed or formula fed. Lack of Vitamin D can lead to rickets – a painful disease that leads to soft bones and low legs.  Mothers in confinement can also have some sunshine to increase their Vitamin D.

First 1000 Days: Baby Starting Solids.

Close up of lovely newborn boy with big brown eyes eating porridge, looking in camera while mother feeding him with spoon and holding kid on hands

Mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their babies with breast milk from birth until 6 months of age. And thereafter to continue until the child is 2 years old. Third, once baby reached 6 months old, introducing solid foods that are packed with proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals can build strong body and brain. When starting solid, it is always much more healthy to prepare the baby food at home than depending on the commercial complementary food.

What is complementary feeding?

Complementary feeding means giving other foods in addition to breast milk. During the period of complementary feeding, a baby gradually becomes accustomed to eating family foods. At the end of this period (usually at around the age of 2 years), your baby now will be joining you to enjoy family foods.

Why are complementary foods needed?

As a baby grows and becomes more active, breast milk alone is not sufficient to meet the child’s nutritional needs at the age of 6 months. Therefore, complementary foods are then needed to fill the gap between the total nutritional need of the child and the amounts provided by breast milk. If the energy gap is not filled, the child will stop growing or grow slowly.

Figure 1: Energy required (top line) and the amount of energy from breast milk

Figure 1 shows how the energy needed by a child (the red line) increases at the child become older, bigger and more active. It also shows how much of this energy is supplied by breast milk if a mother breastfeeds frequently (the area shaded yellow). Note that from 6 months onwards there is a gap between the energy provided by breastmilk (the area shaded white). This gap gets bigger as the child gets older. In other words, this means complementary foods are needed to fill the energy gap. The quantity of food needed increases as the child becomes older.

Figure 2: Absorbed iron needed (top line) and the amount of iron from breast milk and body stores at birth.

Besides energy, we need to look at baby’s requirement for iron. The red lines in Figure 2 shows the daily amount of iron a child needs at different ages. You can see that this gradually becomes less. This is because the amount needed is related to how much new blood as a child’s body has to make. More new blood is made in the first year (when growth is faster) than in the second year.

Full-term babies are born with enough iron to cover their needs in the early months and they use their iron store. This store is used up by about 6 months. This means complementary foods that provide plenty of iron are needed to fill the iron gap from about 6 months of age. If the iron gap is not filled, the child will become anemia. The iron gap is biggest from 6-12 months, so the risk of anemia is the highest in this age group. Preterm and low birth weight babies are at increased risk of anemia because they are born with smaller body stores of iron.

When should complementary foods be started?

Complementary foods should be started when the baby reached 6 months of age. At this age, babies can control their tongues better, start to make up and down “munching” movement, like to put things in their mouths and are interested in family foods. This is also the age when their digestive system is mature enough to digest a range of foods.

Starting complementary feeding too early or too late are both undesirable. Giving too soon is not advisable because:

  • If foods are given, the child takes less breast milk, and the mother produces less,
  • Mother might not be able to sustain longer duration of breastfeeding later.

Enjoy the first 1000 days in life with your baby. Time flies and baby grow up very fast when you look back the precious moments.


[1] Merewood A, Mehta SD, Grossman X, et al. Vitamin D status among 4 month old infants in New England: a prospective cohort study. J Hum Lact. 2012; 28(2): 159-166

Hui Juan (Jess) Wonghttps://nutrilact.wixsite.com/mfmfp/research-team
She is currently pursuing her Master of Sciences (Community Nutrition) in Department of Nutrition, University Putra Malaysia. Being nutritionist with 14 years of experience working in Ministry of Health, she is confident, self-motivated, all-rounded in assessing nutritional needs, and subsequently designing and implementing personalized nutrition programs for clients. She also went on TV show to discuss about infant and young children nutrition in TV2, TV3 and NTV7. Her passionate in empowering communities to achieve better nutritional status, especially by inculcating heathy eating habit among young children. She is also able to communicate complex information on dietary matters in an understandable form to patients. Being a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), she always promote, protect and support breastfeeding.

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