A child’s experiences in the first 1,000 days of life can permanently effect their future health.
That’s according to health experts who say there is growing evidence that the first two years since babies are conceived are the most critical to their future life chances.
We know that in Wakefield we have some long-standing health challenges. A lot of that is to do with early childhood experiences.Dr Andrew Furber, Wakefield’s director of public health
Research shows that during the first 1,000 days of life, a child’s brain develops rapidly and increases from 25 per cent of its adult size to 75 per cent by age two.
Connections in the brain are created at a rate of one million per second, making social experiences and the child’s relationship with parents crucial to their emotional and physical health.
The case for early intervention to boost the health of babies is set out by Dr Andrew Furber, Wakefield’s director of public health, in his annual report. In the report he launches a 1,000-day challenge to improve the health of around 10,000 babies expected to be born in that time.
Dr Furber said: “We know that in Wakefield we have some long-standing health challenges. A lot of that is to do with early childhood experiences.
“Being a parent at the best of times can be a tremendously stressful thing. In no way are we looking to blame parents.”
The report highlights high rates of smoking among mums-to-be in the district. Some 22.8 per cent of pregnant women smoke, almost double the national average.
Dr Furber said toxins from smoking were absorbed into the bloodstream through the placenta and were linked to a string of health issues.
The report said a baby’s bond with its parents, particularly the mother, was fundamental to a child’s development.
It encourages breast feeding as a means to form an attachment with babies, but warns that Wakefield has some of the lowest breastfeeding rates.
In the district 60 per cent of babies are breastfed at birth, falling to 45 per cent after 10 days and to just 33 per cent after six weeks.
The public health report said: “Breastfeeding is great for both the mother and child.
“Breast milk is free, it boosts a child’s immune system protecting them from developing many allergies and infections, it helps mums lose weight and reduces their risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer in the future.”
The report also warns that the more “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACEs) suffered by a child the greater the impact will be on their thinking and social skills. Physical and emotional abuse, neglect, domestic violence and substance misuse in the home are among ACEs which could have a lasting impact.
Babies are disproportionately vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Around 26 per cent were thought to be living in complex family situations.
The report highlights the need to help babies’ health at a time when demand for council services is high as the local authority faces massive budget cuts.
Help for youngsters is being provided at the council’s children’s centres and Early Help Hubs.
Dr Furber said: “There is no question that budgets are very, very tight and we are not in a position to commission new services to respond to these needs in the same was we were able to in the past. It’s about making sure the services we do have are used in the best way possible to meet these needs.”