Moms and Babes – the First 1000 Days

Every day I wake up and I know my children have enough to eat. It’s always been that way. When I lived in Chicago with a new-born baby, breastfeeding for the first time, I would wake up and have a nutritious breakfast, full of protein and the calories necessary for my baby to thrive. When we lived in Pakistan, a land where the average daily wage is three dollars and fifty cents and poverty inescapable, my children were well nourished babies and toddlers. Egypt was the same.

No matter how poor I thought we were, there was always food, there was always healthcare. But I, well (perhaps over?) nourished, am not the norm.

Each year over 2.6 million children die of malnutrition.

Save the Children has published their “State of the World’s Mothers” report for 2012. This annual report focuses on the first 1000 days of life, that critical period of development for a child — a time when the effects of poor nutrition will yield long-term results that cannot be reversed.

The period begins at the start of a woman’s pregnancy and goes through a child’s second birthday. It is during this time that good nutrition is necessary for a child to grow both intellectually and physically, in brain and in body. Malnutrition not only affects the baby, it affects the entire country and ultimately the world through extending poverty, lower earning power and loss of human potential.

The report looks at which countries are successful at providing adequate nutrition during these first 1000 days and which are not. But it also goes further and looks at solutions that are not costly and can make all the difference in a child’s life.

Some of Save the Children’s key findings include:

  • Children in an alarming number of countries are not getting adequate nutrition in their first 1000 days. “Out of 73 developing countries- which together account for 95 percent of child deaths – only four score”very good” on measures of young child nutrition”
  • Child malnutrition is limiting the future success of millions of children and by default their countries
  • Economic growth is not enough to fight malnutrition. It seems like it should be so easy, right? Just offer more aid, more money, increase assistance to farmers. But like many things it takes not only money but also policy change in a world where women and children don’t stand on the highest rung of the global ladder.
  • Health workers are the key to success. By this they don’t mean doctors and nurses in traditional primary care settings, but rather community health workers and midwives stationed in communities and available to bring community care of teaching on hygiene and nutrition, vitamins, promoting breast-feeding,and treating diarrhea.

The report is not all bleak. Solutions are introduced in the form of 6 low-cost nutrition interventions that were identified. These are iron folate, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, vitamin A, zinc and hygiene. None of them are expensive and Save the Children estimates that these could be provided for a cost of $20/per child for the first 1000 days. The report suggests that over 2 million lives could be saved through world-wide implementation of these interventions.

But for the interventions to work people and policy have to come together and care. So what to do? It’s a Tuesday morning and if you are like me you are probably sitting a bit removed from all of this — I just had a coffee worth half a day’s wages for a Pakistani.

I’m told in the book of James that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” and I can believe that malnourished children, and moms who can’t afford the nourishment fit well into that category.

A start for me is to take a closer look at this 70 page report.  Awareness is always a first and necessary step.

And after awareness I’m not sure – I do know this —  it is not about guilt, not about feeling forced, rather any steps are out of a greater understanding and commitment to my faith and God’s world.