Early life nutrition, why so important?

Good nutrition is important at every stage of life, but never more so than during the first two years of life. Research has identified that the first 1000 days of life – that is from conception to the second birthday – is a kind of golden window where the right nutrition is crucial for optimal growth and development. As this includes pregnancy, it highlights the importance and beneficial effects of healthy maternal nutrition on infant development.

Dr Joanna McMillan explains a little about the importance of The First 1000 Days.

It’s also the period when the gut bacteria, also called the gut microbiota, is established and this is essential for immune function, gut health and all sorts of numerous knock on effects. For most of us, birth is the beginning of setting up the gut bacteria, when bubs pass through the birth canal and get exposed to their mother’s microbes for the first time.

The gut bacteria continue to develop during an infant’s first months of life and stabilise around two-years of age. We’re learning that these good gut bugs also need the right nutrition to flourish, and that while an individual’s gut bacteria environment becomes highly stable over time, the composition and activities of the gut bugs can be affected by diet and the environment. This all really does underscore the importance of good nutrition during the first 1000 days of life.

Before conception

What happens during this window has the potential to affect lifelong health and risk of chronic disease, brain development with effects on IQ and behaviour, and the ‘setting’ if you like of the body computer that controls all aspects of metabolism.

Before Conception

0-12 Months

Breastfeeding is optimal and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends exclusively breastfed until around 6 months, at which point solid foods should be introduced. When breastfeeding is not possible or is combined with bottle feeding, infant formula is the required food for babies.


1-3 Years

By 12 months, infants should be learning to enjoy a varied diet, to ensure they get all the nutrients they need and so that they can develop the muscles and skills needed for chewing and eating. Milk continues to contribute significantly to their nutrition, providing important nutrients, especially calcium, but be sure to wean your little ones onto a rich and diverse diet, filled with different colour, texture and taste.

This booklet called The First 1000 Days – Nutrition Matters for Life Long Health, has been generously provided by the Early Life Nutrition Coalition.