Proper nutrition is undoubtedly one of the key factors for early childhood development. It is however unfortunate that in most developing countries, nutrition is very poor and malnutrition among children and mothers is a major cause of infant mortality, stunted growth and underweight.
The UNICEF Uganda nutrition statistics of 2018 show that 3.6% of the children in Uganda are suffering from moderate acute nutrition and 1.3% have severe acute nutrition. The Ministry of Health report indicates that the infant mortality rate in Uganda as of 2018 was 33 deaths per 1000 live births and one of the key underlying causes was malnutrition. Mothers and pregnant women need to be encouraged to pay keen attention of their nutritional welfare and emotional wellbeing during pregnancy and after the birth of their children. This is a major requirement as scientific research has highlighted that the first 1000 days as the most crucial for a child’s growth and optimal development.
The 1000 days window of golden opportunity
The first 1,000 days of life refers to the time spanning roughly between conception and one’s second birthday is a unique period of opportunity when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the lifespan are established. While all nutrients are important for brain development and function, optimal overall brain development depends on providing sufficient quantities of key nutrients during specific sensitive time periods in these first 1,000 days. The brain development starts as soon as at 5 months post-conception and in the first postnatal year, there is rapid growth of the language processing areas as well as early development of other cells concerned with factors such as attention, inhibition, and flexibility. This implies that there will be great brain vulnerability to any child who is nutrient deficit during this crucial period.
It should also be noted that healthy neurodevelopment is dependent on socioeconomic, interpersonal and/or family factors. This clearly implies that the health and well-being of a pregnant and lactating woman is directly connected to the growth and health of her infant. The right nutrition for the mother and for the child during this time can have a profound impact on the child’s growth and development and reduce disease risk, as well as protect the mother’s health. A woman should also be devoid of traumatic and stressful situations.
In the presence of a supportive environment, an attached primary caregiver, and a healthy diet, the brain typically thrives. In infants and children, toxic stress, emotional deprivation, and infection or inflammation have been shown to be associated with less optimal brain development, and a deficient diet for the child can worsen this.