Tweddle World Mental Health Day

New Report Shows First 1000 Days are Crucial

New Report Shows First 1000 Days are Crucial

By Kerrie Gottliebsen

Tweddle’s early parenting programs have long been informed by a growing body of evidence which shows that experiences during the first 1000 days of life can have long-term consequences for a baby or toddler’s health and wellbeing.

A research review by experts at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute titled Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days is the compilation of evidence recommending that action must primarily focus on education, empowerment and taking a public health approach to supporting the public to understand the significance of the first 1000 days.

The study, funded by Bupa Australia, shows that stressful family environments experienced in the infant’s first year of life in conjunction with highly reactive, avoidant and impulsive temperament styles can contribute to anxiety and depressive symptoms in children at 4 years of age.

Tweddle Director of Clinical Services/Nursing Ms Kirsty Evans sees this new research review as playing an important role in highlighting the need for early parenting support, especially for vulnerable parents experiencing mental health issues like, anxiety, stress and depression.

“Supporting vulnerable parents to attune to their children and to read cues creates an environment where babies and toddlers feel safe, secure and can learn to regulate their emotions” said Kirsty “We know that gaps in development appear before children turn 2. This report shows how a child’s development is affected by the biological and physical environments they occupy during the first 1000 days. Tweddle’s parenting support programs focus on this critical window of development”

According to the report, attachment styles are also a priority in the first 1000 days with the two overarching styles: secure attachment; and insecure attachment. Secure attachment is defined by a sense of attachment security, comfort with closeness and interdependence, confidence in support seeking, and other positive ways of managing stress. Insecure attachment arises when caregivers are unavailable, unresponsive or unpredictable in responding to the child’s needs, proximity seeking fails to relieve distress, and alternative strategies for emotional regulation (other than proximity seeking) are developed. Insecure attachments are often associated with an increased likelihood of developing social and emotional maladjustment in later life.

The report’s research also indicated that fathers play a distinct (as in different to mothers) role in children’s socialisation. Specifically, fathers who model positive behaviours such as accessibility, engagement and responsibility contribute to: better psychosocial adjustment; better social competence and maturity; and more positive child/adolescent-father relationships.  Conversely, poor father-child relationships and fathering behaviours can have a lasting effect on a child’s social adjustment and relationships, associated with inferior adult social functioning; significantly reduced likelihood of secure adjustment; and a significantly greater risk of avoidant or dependent attachment styles.

“While at Tweddle, stressed and anxious parents work with allied health professionals to deal with issues which may be impacting their parenting, especially in the event of triggering behaviours which frighten babies and toddlers.”

Kirsty concurred with the report’s findings which shows that when children do not feel safe, calm or protected, the child’s brain places an emphasis on developing neuronal pathways that are associated with survival, before those that are essential to future learning and growth. This research has also shown chronic stress impacts a person’s genetics by shortening telomeres – the protective caps at the end of chromosomes. The report’s authors concluded that “Telomere shortness and stress have independently been associated with several common conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.”

Other Key messages in the report include:

  • The foetus uses cues provided by their mother’s physical and mental states to ‘predict’ the kind of world they will be born into, and adapts accordingly. This adaptation can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the child’s relationships and environments.
  • Disadvantage can be passed down through the generations at a cellular level. Our biology changes in response to stress, poverty and other prolonged adverse experiences, and these changes can be passed on to children from their parents and grandparents.
  • In addition to loving caregivers, children need safe communities, secure housing, access to green parklands, environments free from toxins, and access to affordable, nutritious foods. Many of these needs are beyond the control of individual families. This means that children can only develop as well as their families and their community and our broader society enable them to.
  • Not all changes that occur within the first thousand days are permanent. But as children grow, their ability to alter and change to make up for negative experiences and environments in the first thousand days becomes more difficult.
  • Children exposed to adverse environments and experiences early are likely to continue to be exposed to such experiences, which has a cumulative effect. In this way, a poor start to life in the first 1000 days may be the start of a cascade of events that reinforce earlier neurological and biological adaptations.

Compelling evidence now links adult conditions such as coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer to pathways that originated prior to or during the first 1000 days.

Reversing the impacts of early adverse experiences or inheritances gets progressively harder after the first 1000 days therefore investing in services that support parents, babies and toddlers during the first 1000 days, like Tweddle, is vital.

You can read the CCCH Summary report here.The First Thousand Days: An Evidence Paper Summary September-2017

Read more about the First 1000 Days on Tweddle’s website.

 


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