In the first year of life, one million connections in the brain are created per second. Nurturing relationships and quality infant care during this peak period of growth is vitally important to optimum development and enables babies to achieve the best start in life. Breastfeeding promotes bonding and offers health benefits for both mom and baby, as well as economic benefits.
New families need support during this exhausting time. Infants are the largest age group to be abused or neglected as crying peaks about six weeks as does “shaken baby syndrome.” Alarmingly, 65% of maltreated children have a substance-abusing parent. Sleep-related deaths are the largest preventable cause of infant mortality after the first month of life.
Neglect during infancy is especially harmful because of the peak time of “hard-wiring” experiences to the brain. The most vulnerable and largest age group for maltreatment are infants. Infant deaths are often in the hands of “mom’s boyfriend” while she is at work. In order to achieve breakthrough outcomes for children facing significant adversity, we have to transform the lives of the adults who care for them including continuity of health care coverage for women and infants, services for substance-exposed newborns, and healing the underlying trauma related to maternal and paternal depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues.
Most parents have to return to work and yet quality infant care is unavailable and unaffordable to most families. In Florida, more than 25,000 babies are on the waitlist for subsidized child care so their parents can work. In most cases, babies are “warehoused” in pitifully low-quality licensed care homes or centers.
The best chance for a child to be school-ready and reduce the risk of facing adversity later in life is to give them a safe, nurturing, healthy, and secure first 1,000 days of life.