Dairy’s Role in Brain Development During the First 1,000 Days

  • 3 min read September 1, 2023

As a dairy farmer, you understand the importance of dairy foods in building a healthy life right from the start. However, not all consumers are aware of the incredible impact that dairy foods can have on cognitive development and overall wellness, particularly during the critical phases of pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. That's where the dairy checkoff comes in, with a new strategy to share the power of dairy foods with new and expecting parents.

The Thousand-Day Window: Dairy’s Important Role in Brain Development

The first 1,000 days of a child's life, from conception to the second birthday, are crucial for shaping the foundation of their brain development.

Dr. Robert Murray, who specializes in pediatric nutrition, points out two important factors prompting the emphasis on the 1,000-day period. First, the rapid pace of human growth during fetal, neonatal, and toddler stages highlights the significance of nutrition during this phase. Second, recent technological advancements have enabled visualization of brain growth, illuminating the critical role of nutrition and nurturing in the first 1,000 days.

Dr. Murray emphasizes that nutrition, including dairy’s nutrient package, plays a crucial role in brain development during the thousand-day window. Dairy foods provide seven of the 14 nutrients the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes for early brain development, contributing to cognitive growth.

National Dairy Council: Providing Research-Backed Information for Parents and Pediatricians

Pediatric health professionals top the list when it comes to trusted sources parents turn to for nutrition advice for their kids. With this in mind, the dairy checkoff’s investment in research made it possible for National Dairy Council (NDC) to provide science-based educational resources for pediatric care specialists to help educate parents.

NDC partnered with state and regional dairy councils to pilot an in-office education program for pediatric specialists and the families they counsel. This included Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics, which is a priority because 49 percent of infants born in the U.S. are to families participating in this program.

The pilot, called “Dairy Every Day Is a Healthy Way to Nourish Brains, Bones and Bodies,” provided in-depth education to pediatric health professionals and compelling consumer-facing resources to help empower parents to nourish their children with dairy foods confidently. Due to the pilot program's success, it will continue through ongoing collaboration with state and regional checkoff teams.

The educational outreach is being enhanced with print and digital advertorials in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children magazine, which reaches 25,000 pediatrician offices and millions of parents and caregivers.

New Checkoff Strategy Sharing the Power of Dairy in the First 1,000 Days

The message of dairy’s crucial role in healthy development during and after pregnancy inspired a new checkoff strategy to team with credible media partners, outlets, and registered dietitian influencers..

Serena Schaffner, senior vice president of marketing communications for Dairy Management Inc., said the program aims to bust myths and provide accurate information to consumers who may be misinformed about dairy’s benefits. Working with three of the largest online health properties (EveryDay Health, What to Expect and Healthline), the program has produced more than 100 pieces of content, including articles, videos, social media posts and targeted emails.

Some questions the program answers include:

- How early can a parent feed dairy to their child?

- What is the best protein to eat in the morning?

- Is dairy good for you?

The program has produced over 111 million media impressions and 60-plus dairy-focused pieces of social media content posted by media partners, registered dietitians and pediatrician partners. Thirty newsletter emails included links to USDairy.com, where readers could learn more about the benefits of dairy and the farmers who produce it.

Next Steps in Sharing Dairy’s Role

The new strategy is an important initiative for the dairy checkoff to promote dairy’s health advantages, debunk misconceptions and support new and expecting parents.

“The outcomes of our initial efforts speak for themselves, and we are currently developing additional strategies to maintain our momentum, such as collaborating with more recognized health and wellness institutions,” says Schaffner.

To stay up to date on what Your Dairy Checkoff is doing for you, connect with us online or send an email to TalkToTheCheckoff@dairy.org.