Bioethics Blogs

Introduction: The First Thousand Days of Life by Michelle Pentecost

(On behalf of the First Thousand Days Research Group (University of Cape Town))

“Good nutrition in the first 1000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday sets the foundation for all the days that follow.”


“The First 1,000 Days of being a parent are now accepted to be the most significant in a child’s development.”

– National Childbirth Trust, UK

“Researchers have identified the first 1,000 days of a child’s life—from pregnancy through a child’s 2nd birthday—as a critical window of time that sets the stage for a person’s intellectual development and lifelong health.”

– Lucy Sullivan, National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition


The focus of this series is the “the first thousand days”, a new field of enquiry that is radically reshaping understandings of health and heredity, with material consequences for policy, publics and concepts of life. The thousand days between conception and a child’s second birthday is presented in contemporary epidemiology and public media, shaped by new knowledge in neuroscience, epigenetics and Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DoHaD) research, as a critical period that determines future health and potential. This imaginary – as captured by the excerpts from non-governmental organizations above – has been the object of study for The First Thousand Days Research Group at the University of Cape Town, chaired by Professor Fiona Ross, since mid-2013. Under the rubric of “the first thousand days”, we have conducted ethnographic research across a set of inter-related themes to interrogate the logics and implications of this imaginary. The sites of our research include antenatal clinics, soup kitchens, laboratories of reproductive technologies, places of worship, neonatal units, breast milk banks, middle class settings and informal settlements.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.