Nutrition in Pregnancy, Infancy and Toddlerhood

Mom holding toddler that is eating a green pepper

A new series in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) identifies that nutrition during the 1,000-day window (from pregnancy to the baby’s second birthday) is untapped potential to improve the health of families. More than 15 authors have penned 70 pages of analytical essays, original research and editorials about the pivotal role of nutrition during pregnancy, infancy and toddlerhood.

The first 1000 days begins with pregnancy and ends at the child’s second birthday. Nutrition throughout the life course, and especially during the first 1000 days, supports mom’s health and baby’s growth and development. Brain development begins in utero and continues over the life course; however, a child’s brain develops more rapidly within the first 1000 days than any other time in life. Key nutrients are necessary for healthy brain development and are especially needed at specific periods. If access to these nutrients is limited, the consequences could include serious birth defects of the brain and spine, an increased risk of death, and impaired cognitive development.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 (Dietary Guidelines PDF) from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services provided, for the first time, a comprehensive set of federal recommendations on dietary intake for pregnant and lactating women and infants and toddlers.

Nutrition During Pregnancy and Lactation

Pregnant and lactating women are encouraged to consume nutrient-dense foods and beverages with an emphasis on folic acid, iron, iodine, and choline. On average, pregnant and lactating women’s average intake of total vegetables, fruits, and dairy are below recommendations, where their average intake of total grains is within recommendations.

Entering pregnancy at a healthy weight and achieving recommended weight gain during pregnancy is also associated with positive health outcomes for both mom and baby.

Nutrition During Infancy and Toddlerhood

For most infants, breast feeding is the ideal source of nutrition and has significant health benefits. When possible, it is recommended that infants be exclusively breast fed for about the first six months and continue to be fed human milk for at least 12 months, longer if desired. 

Additionally, establishing early healthy dietary patterns can have long-lasting impacts on later dietary patterns and health outcomes, such as obesity and tooth decay.

The Dietary Guidelines in are based on a large body of research and serve as the foundation for federal nutrition programs, policies, and education efforts. The Dietary Guidelines influence state and local programs, policies, and communication efforts aimed at improving nutrition in the US population.