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The first 1001 critical days – promoting your baby’s development

The first 1001 days, from conception to two years old, is considered to be the most important time in a child’s life for development, more so than at any other time in their lives. In fact, by the age of two, a child’s brain is already 80% developed, and has been making around one million new connections every second.

How can I support my child’s development during this time?

The first 1001 days begins from conception, so you can begin supporting your child’s development from the very early stages of pregnancy.

Young couple is happy because of positive pregnancy test

Avoiding stress

It’s important to note that as well as being the most critical time for development, the first 1001 days lay the foundations for how the brain behaves in later life.

A foetus or baby exposed to long periods of external stress can make them less resilient to stressful situations in later life. This early stress can come from a parent suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety, drug or alcohol problems, having a bad relationship with their partner, or an external trauma such as bereavement.

Some every day stresses are inevitable, but if you’re struggling to cope or are suffering from any of the symptoms of perinatal mental illness, speak to a friend or family member and reach out to a GP or health visitor for support.

Click here to access support services for domestic abuse.

Promoting attachment

The main predictor of how healthy a child will be later in life is in the quality and strength of the love and relationship they have with their parent or main care givers. Attachment ensures security, contentment, and contributes to a child feeling safe and understood, so they are more likely to grow up to be happy and healthy.

Here are some tips for promoting attachment:

You and your bump during pregnancy

Speak to your bump on a regular basis, by around 16 weeks your baby can hear sounds in the outside world and will be able to recognise your voice. Other people can talk or sing to your bump too, such as friends and family members. Don’t put headphones on your bump though, as this will be too loud for your baby.

Pregnant support group meet up in a house

Talking or singing to your baby before birth will help them begin to recognise voices, making them feel safe and secure, as well as training their hearing in preparation for when they begin to talk.

Giving your child attention

Your child will love the sound of your voice, so talk and interact with them regularly. Talk to them about the everyday things you are doing together. You can also try pulling faces, playing peekaboo, reading stories and making different sounds.

Smile at your baby, try turning off the TV or put down your smartphone when interacting with them and give them lots of eye contact.

Smiling young father with baby

With a rapidly developing brain, your child needs you to make life interesting for them. Take time to play, this could be in the garden, the park, the bath, on the floor or at the table. Have a go at getting down to the same level as your child when you play and have fun together.


When your child feels stressed, they need you to help them by being as calm as you can. Look for ways to be calm and relaxed together with your child but take some time out for yourself too. Have a look at our emotional health advice for expectant parents here.

When you cuddle your child, it helps them to feel safe, secure, and loved. You can’t give your child too many cuddles. You can try using different kinds of touch as well, such as massaging, stroking, and playing tickling games.

Mum and newborn baby skin to skin after birth

Make sure you are responding to your babies physical and emotional needs by comforting them if they are tired or in pain, and by feeding them when they are hungry. Lots of skin-to-skin contact will aid attachment too, and feeding is the perfect time for parents to practice this. The more time you spend with your baby, the quicker you will learn to understand each other’s signs and signals.

More information about the first 1001 days can be found in this video.

This video was not produced by Health for Under 5’s and may contain adverts.

You can view a transcript of the video here.

Useful links

Page last reviewed: 25-11-2021

Next review due: 25-11-2024