Skip to main content

Health Matters: Giving every child the best start in life

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Health Matters

Welcome to the fifth edition of PHE’s Health Matters, a resource for public health professionals, which brings together important facts, figures and evidence of effective interventions to tackle major public health problems.

This edition focuses on giving every child the best start in life and specifically the crucial period from pregnancy to the age of two (listen to the launch teleconference presentation).

The earliest experiences, starting in the womb, shape a baby’s brain development. During the first two years of life the brain displays a remarkable capacity to absorb information and adapt to its surroundings.

At age two, the connections that are being formed in a child’s brain are happening about twice as fast as in an adult’s brain.

best start

What happens in pregnancy and early childhood impacts on physical and emotional health through into adulthood. Supporting good maternal health is important for safe delivery and good birth weight to give babies the best start.

The prevention of adverse health factors in pregnancy is vital. Premature and small babies are more likely to have poorer outcomes.

Enabling children to achieve their full potential and be physically and emotionally healthy provides the cornerstone for a healthy, productive childhood and adulthood.

first 2 years

Investing in early years services can improve babies’ and children’s health outcomes including:

  • early cognitive and non-cognitive development
  • social development
  • children’s readiness for school
  • later educational outcomes

Investing in the early years can help to address health inequalities that disadvantage some from the very beginning of their lives.

It also makes strong sense to invest in the early years from an economic perspective as the long-term savings that can be generated are considerable. Social Return on Investment studies show returns of between £1.37 and £9.20 for every £1 invested in the early years.

why invest

This resource for local authorities and health professionals makes the case for investing in early years care and outlines how to support women, and their partners, from conception through to pregnancy and into parenthood.

To assist with this, we have created a new suite of Health Matters infographics to help you make the case in your local area.

This edition includes advice on:

  • encouraging a healthy pregnancy
  • the importance of newborn screening and vaccination
  • encouraging secure attachment
  • promoting breastfeeding
  • improving maternal mental health

It also sets out the importance of The Healthy Child Programme which sits at the heart of services commissioned by local authorities for children and families. This is delivered as a universal service with additional services for those with specific needs and risks.

Read the early years edition of Health Matters for more on what local authorities and health professionals can do to improve our children’s health and ultimately the health of the nation.

Health Matters
Health Matters is a resource for professionals which brings together the latest data and evidence, makes the case for effective public health interventions and highlights tools and resources that can facilitate local or national action. Visit the Health Matters area of GOV.UK or sign up to receive the latest updates through our e-bulletin. If you found this blog helpful, please view other Health Matters blogs.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Nicola Matthias posted on

    In your poster I would have included immunisations as vital in promoting and supporting a healthy start in life

  2. Comment by Julie hodgins posted on

    Glad that breastfeeding is in there.We need government policy to change society's attitutude and get the commercial milk and babyfood industry compliant with WHO marketing guidelines here in the UK. Please help with these issues

  3. Comment by Kim Holt posted on

    I would include keeping children safe by providing therapeutic support for parents with mental health difficulties to facilitate healthy attachments. Psychological difficulties are associated with poor child outcomes, insecure attachments and violence. There needs to be more provision for fathers as well as women.

  4. Comment by Alison Brown posted on

    I found this resource interesting and informative, however, the role of the midwife in giving every child the best possible start in life in largely overlooked. This is a shame, as the evidence about the benefits for the woman and her baby of a relationship-based model of care are significant - for all women, receiving continuity of care from a midwife they know results in their being 24% fewer preterm births, 19% less likely to miscarry before 24 weeks gestation, and 16% less likely to lose their baby at any gestation. They are also more likely to give birth normally with fewer interventions (Sandall et al 2015). If these results could be obtained by giving a drug I can't help but think it would have been given by now. The fact that virtually nothing has so far happened nationally to implement relationship based care is inexcusable.

  5. Comment by Appurva posted on

    Hi Thank you for share this article.very useful information