The First 1000 Days
Tweddle’s focus on therapeutic interventions in the first 1000 days are also seen through the lens of impacts on future generations.
The first 1000 days includes the period of time throughout pregnancy, birth and the first 24 months. The transition to parenting can be extremely challenging for many parents. Many parents were not provided positive parenting role models and some find that babies and toddlers trigger difficult emotions and reactions.
Pregnancy and the birth of a baby is a critical window of opportunity when parents are especially receptive to offers of advice and support.
Evidence shows that:
- The major difference between brain development in a child versus learning as an adult is a matter of degree: the brain is far more impressionable (neuroscientists use the term plastic) in early life than in maturity. This plasticity has both a positive and a negative side. On the positive side, it means that young children’s brains are more open to learning and enriching influences. On the negative side, it also means that young children’s brains are more vulnerable to developmental problems should their environment prove especially impoverished or un-nurturing.
- Brain development is “activity-dependent,” meaning that the electrical activity in every circuit—sensory, motor, emotional, cognitive–shapes the way that circuit gets put together. Every experience–whether it is seeing one’s first rainbow, riding a bicycle, reading a book, sharing a joke–excites certain neural circuits and leaves others inactive. Those that are consistently turned on over time will be strengthened, while those that are rarely excited may be dropped away, like pruning.
- One of the most essential experiences in shaping the architecture of the developing brain is “serve and return” interaction between children and significant adults in their lives. Young children naturally reach out for interaction through babbling, facial expressions, and gestures, and adults respond with the same kind of vocalizing and gesturing back at them. This back-and-forth process is fundamental to the wiring of the brain, especially in the earliest years.
- A newborn’s brain is only about one-quarter the size of an adult’s however it grows to about 80 percent of adult size by three years of age and 90 percent by age five.
- From birth to age 18 months, it has been calculated that connections in the brain are created at a rate of a million per second. The earliest experiences shape a baby’s brain development, and have a lifelong impact on that baby’s mental and emotional health.
- A pregnant mother suffering from stress can sometimes pass on the message to the unborn baby that the world will be dangerous, so that as a child he or she will struggle with many social and emotional problems. The child’s response to experiences of fear or tension have been set to danger and high alert. This will also occur at anytime during the first 1000 days whenever a baby is exposed to overwhelming stress from any cause within the family, such as parental mental illness, maltreatment or exposure to domestic violence.
- International studies show that when a baby’s development falls behind the norm during the first years of life, it is more likely to fall even further behind in subsequent years, than to catch up with those that have had a better start.
- Research shows the transmission of trauma to a child via what is called “epigenetic inheritance” is the idea that environmental influences such as alcohol, drugs and chronic stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. So trauma in the first thousand days not only impacts brain development but impacts at a cellular level.
It’s important to keep in mind that early intervention and prevention services that build the confidence and skills of parents can change the trajectory of vulnerable families. Because of the rapid pace of development in infancy, young children can recover quickly, which is why it is important to act as early as possible.