Public Health Blog: The importance of making sure every child gets the best start in life
My son is nearly three now. I’ve no idea where the last few years have gone; they seem to have flown by. I’m constantly amazed by the wonder of human development and the milestones passed.
As I write this my son is exactly 873 days old. In 2017, UNICEF published a report called ‘For every child, early moments matter’. In this report, UNICEF highlights the importance of the first 1000 days of a child’s life and why investing in a child’s early moments is so crucial for their future health and wellbeing. It mentions access to good quality healthcare services, however more importantly focuses on a much wider range of factors that support health, including breastfeeding and building close, loving relationships.
But helping children achieve the best start in life goes much further back than this. What we do during pregnancy, and even before we get pregnant, can impact on the health of our children for the rest of their lives. A recent series of papers published in The Lancet highlighted that parents who have a healthy diet and weight around the time of conception reduce their child’s risk of developing conditions such as heart disease in later life.
So given the importance of wellbeing before, during and after pregnancy, as well as during the first three years, what’s happening locally to help families achieve a good start in life? Since November 2017, myself and Denise Lightfoot – Midwifery Manager for Public Health at North Cumbria Hospitals have been leading on the development of a new ‘Starting Well’ maternity and early years (0-3) public health strategy for the North Cumbria area. From the beginning, the Maternity Voices Partnership has been a key partner in helping us think about what our priorities should be, what’s working well and what could work better.
Through looking at data and listening to women, their families and professionals, we’ve identified eight key priorities; alcohol in pregnancy, breastfeeding, domestic violence, healthy weight, emotional resilience, safe spacing between pregnancies, stop smoking and vaccinations. We are now busy finalising the strategy and have also started holding a series of workshops to look at the priorities and develop improvement plans.
The reasons why families sometimes struggle to achieve wellbeing are complex and varied. This is why we are including a wide range of partners, including families, midwifery, health visitors and children’s centres in developing the plans. Achieving improvements will require action across a number of different groups and it is important that action is ‘joined up’ wherever possible. Its early days, but we hope in the long-term this approach will help families start and live well going forward.
As a result of all the conversations we’ve had developing the strategy so far, we’ve drafted a set of aims and objectives that will underpin the strategy:
Families in North Cumbria are valued, happy and healthy.
We all want the very best for our families
Every women, her partner and children are supported to achieve mental and physical wellbeing before, during and after pregnancy, and during the first 3 years of life
• We will work together and all take responsibility for achieving wellbeing within our families, social networks, communities and workplaces
• We will respect each other and ensure the views and experiences of women and their families are at the centre of what we do
• More babies are breastfed
• Families achieve mental wellbeing and a healthy lifestyle before, during and after pregnancy
• The health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies is protected
We’re keen to know what local families think, so please use the ‘reply’ box below to comment.
We’ll keep you posted on progress in delivering the ‘Starting Well’ public health strategy and look forward to writing our next blog!
Claire King, Public Health Consultant, Cumbria County Council