First thousand days

The ‘first thousand days’ refers to the period of development from conception to age 2. While early years experts have long been aware that this is an important period of development, researchers have only recently started to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the processes by which genes, experiences and environments interact to influence development.

New knowledge that has been unveiled has served to increase experts’ views of the significance of the first thousand days, and of the urgent need to reform our policies, practices and systems in response to the evidence.

Evidence shows significance of the first thousand days

The First 1000 Days: An Evidence Paper revealed that there are multiple influences on children’s development, starting from pre-conception, and at the level of the individual child, the family, the community, and broader society.

The Evidence Paper was prepared by the Centre for Community Child Health for the Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days initiative.

   Key findings

  • The age, health and wellbeing of both mother and father prior to the child’s conception affect the integrity of the embryo right from the very beginning.
  • The foetus uses cues provided by their mother’s physical and mental states to ‘predict’ the kind of world they will be both into, and adapts accordingly. This adaptation can be either beneficial or detrimental, depending on the child’s relationships and environments.
  • The human brain and our bodily systems – including the immune, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular systems – operate as an integrated system, not as separate systems. This means that what happens in the first thousand days affects the whole body, with potentially profound consequences over the life course.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Key documents

The First Thousand Days: An Evidence Paper The First Thousand Days: An Evidence Paper – Summary



MCRI Media Release – Head Start on First Thousand Days

Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days

In line with our focus on prevention and early intervention, CCCH – along with the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth, Bupa Australia, the Bupa Health Foundation, and PwC Australia – united to form a collaboration to focus attention on the earliest period of development: the first thousand days. The collaboration’s first initiative – Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days – has been funded by the Bupa Health Foundation. As experts in research and evidence synthesis, one of CCCH’s key roles in the initiative was to develop a First Thousand Days Evidence Paper, synthesising current Australian and international evidence on the biological, social, global, and environmental influences on development.

More information

For more information on the Strong Foundations initiative and the First Thousand Days: An Evidence Paper report, visit the Strong Foundations: Getting it Right in the First 1000 Days website or contact Sue West,

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