By Lucy Martinez Sullivan
It is strange to think that the effect of what a child eats during the 1,000 days between when he is in his mother’s womb and his 2nd birthday can last a lifetime. Yet science shows us that poor nutrition during these 1,000 days can cause severe and irreversible damage to a child’s body and brain. The good news is that malnutrition is a problem we know how to solve.
It all starts with baby steps.
Today, simple, affordable solutions exist to help kids survive and thrive beyond their 2nd birthday. These high-impact, low-cost nutrition solutions can mean the difference between a child who faces a lifetime of health and developmental challenges and one that is able to grow, learn, rise out of poverty, and live a healthy life:
Making sure moms-to-be get iron and folic acid supplements. In the U.S., most expectant moms understand the importance of a good pre-natal vitamin. But in poor countries, many women don’t know about or have access to vitamins and minerals that are absolutely essential to their well-being and the well-being of their babies. Ensuring that a pregnant woman gets the iron and folic acid she needs to safely deliver a healthy baby can cost as little as $10 per woman. Simple iron and folic acid supplements can help prevent women and babies from dying during and after childbirth. They can also help prevent birth defects and long-term mental and learning disabilities in children.
Giving infants and toddlers a nutrition boost. Many new moms in poor countries lack the knowledge and resources to ensure that their young children get the right nutrition in their first two years. New innovations like Sprinkles — vitamins for infants and toddlers in powdered form that can be sprinkled onto any cooked food—are being used to give young kids around the world a healthy start at life. At a cost of pennies per packet, these vitamin powders are an inexpensive yet highly effective way to help prevent serious nutritional deficiencies in children.
Encouraging baby-friendly feeding practices. Breastfeeding is a low-cost solution that could save the lives of over one million children every year. Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life. It protects against common childhood diseases such as diarrhea and pneumonia, and may also have longer-term benefits such as lowering mean blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing the prevalence of type-2 diabetes. Yet most mothers in poor countries don’t know about the benefits of breastfeeding and don’t get the right kind of support to learn when or how to breastfeed their babies. Getting hospitals and health workers to promote breastfeeding is a smart, cost-effective way to change this and it only costs about $0.40 per baby.
Baby steps can translate into great strides. By improving nutrition for moms and babies during the all-important 1,000 days, we can save lives and help break the cycle of poverty. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. It just takes commitment. Join us at thousanddays.org and learn more.
Lucy Sullivan is the Director of 1,000 Days, an initiative launched by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based international relief and development organizations, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of State, to promote action and investment in improving maternal and child nutrition during the critical 1,000 day window from pregnancy to age two.