Around the World in 1,000 Days

World Food Programme
May 17, 2019
Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

Did you know that undernutrition is the root cause of nearly half of all deaths in children under 5? For those who are lucky enough to survive, malnutrition during pregnancy and early life can lead to learning difficulties, vulnerability to disease, and lower future earnings.

Healthy nutrition during pregnancy and early life sets the foundation for a healthy future. But for parents caught up in conflict, extreme weather and forced displacement, finding enough food for their children can be a daunting challenge.

Here, seven mothers and one father from very different countries and contexts describe how they try to ensure the best chances for a healthy, happy future for their children throughout this critical period.

Pregnancy — the building blocks for a healthy new life
Photo: WFP/ Fahima Abdulaziz

“I have learned to eat what is good for my baby and myself,” says Raida. WFP nutrition support helps her and her baby stay healthy throughout her pregnancy.

Raida, the Philippines

Raida Gapor, six-months pregnant, is a regular at the local health clinic where she gets support from the World Food Programme (WFP) on healthy eating habits as well as advice on childbirth and how to take care of a baby:

“I visit the health center several times throughout the month, but there are weeks where I visit more than others. It really depends on how I feel. I’m really careful this time, because I’ve already lost a child. It was years ago. My daughter was very malnourished. Even at the age of two, she couldn’t walk and she was frail. She really didn’t weigh much. Now I feel a difference — my baby is healthy and kicking.

Since visiting the health center and joining the WFP nutrition support program, I’ve noticed that my appetite is much healthier. I have also gained more weight compared to my first pregnancy. I have learned to eat only what is good for my baby and myself: vegetables, fruits and fish are the staples for me right now.

I haven’t seen my child yet, but I feel different. Looking back at my first pregnancy, I couldn’t feel much movement inside my womb and I was always in low spirits.”

Nutrition support is helping women in Elizabeth’s community to deliver healthier babies.

Elizabeth, Tanzania

Mother-of-five Elizabeth also sees a difference between her pregnancies before and after she joined the WFP-supported Better Nutrition  program in her native Dodoma province. Seven months into her sixth pregnancy, Elizabeth walks two hours to the local clinic, where a small number of staff — a nurse, a midwife and a medical student — aided by one member of the local community take care of hundreds of women and children every week.

“My first three children were not part of this program and I can see the difference between them and the ones who did,” says Elizabeth. At the clinic, she receives fortified porridge which contains the nutrients she needs to support the development of her baby during the critical months of her pregnancy. “I like the porridge — it tastes better than the regular one,” she adds.

Nurse Belina, who has been at the clinic for nine years, says that without this food, many of the babies would be underweight, but thanks to WFP’s support most of the babies are weighing in at nearly 9 pounds.

A very important ingredient: fathers
Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

Breastfeeding isn’t just a woman’s job. Fathers like Alick have a very important role supporting breastfeeding mothers.

Alick, Malawi

Malawian father Alick says: “I learnt lessons in raising my first child. My wife was overwhelmed with household chores and taking care of the child — exclusive breastfeeding was a challenge. As a result, the child was malnourished.”

“Now I help my wife with most household chores and taking care of children, so that she has enough rest and time to exclusively breastfeed our baby.”

From breast to spoon — introducing nutritious food
Photo: WFP/Irma Chavarría

Baby Luna is very healthy thanks to her mother’s breast milk and the nutritious food she gives her.

Petronila Antonia, Guatemala

“For the first months I only fed my daughter, Luna, breast milk . While I was pregnant I attended counseling groups supported by WFP and learned that this was good for the growth and health of my baby. She is 8 months old now and she hardly ever gets sick, she is super healthy!

Now I prepare different types of foods for her, always trying to make her meals healthy and nutritious. For example, I give her potatoes, fruit, beans and eggs. I plan to keep breastfeeding Luna until she turns 2 — she likes it a lot. I learned a lot with the support groups and realized that it is very important to keep learning.”

Photo: WFP/Gabriela Cladellas

Fortified cereals ensure José has all the nutrients he need to develop to his full potential.

Yojana, El Salvador

In El Salvador, mother-of-three Yojana feeds her youngest son, José, nutrient-rich fortified cereals that she receives through the WFP-supported Nutrimos El Salvador program.

“I have three children and my youngest one, José, who is 1, is having the cereals from the program. I blend them in juices and porridge and I can see they do him a lot of good. I can see the difference this makes — he has gained weight and he is growing well. I also took the fortified cereals after the third month of my pregnancy and thanks to my good nutrition, José was born healthy and strong.”

Mothering in times of emergency
Photo: WFP/Marwa Awad

“I was too hungry to produce enough milk,” says Alaa. Nutrition support is helping her and her son Aboud back to health.

Alaa, Syria

The support that is so important to many — if not all — mothers becomes particularly vital in the case of emergencies like conflict, displacement or natural disasters.

“I was quite weak after giving birth and my breast milk was not sufficient for Aboud. I could tell he was not growing properly,” says Alaa who had to leave her home in a rural village near Deir Ezzor after years of siege and bombardment. “I had to feed my baby sugary water to make up for the lack of milk. I couldn’t produce enough milk for him, I was too hungry.”

After she moved to the border town of Ya’roubiyah, one of her neighbors told her about a WFP-supported children’s nutrition clinic. “’I have nothing to lose,’ I thought. And, with the treatment we both received, I have gained so much.” The local doctor diagnosed Alaa and her baby Aboud with malnutrition, giving them both nutrition supplements.

“Before finding WFP’s clinic, I had tried several private ones but I could not afford the doctor’s fees. I feel this clinic has saved my life and that of my son.”

Ayesha, Bangladesh

Photo: WFP/Saikat Mojumder

Fortified cereals are enabling Ayesha to breastfeed her baby as well as giving her energy.

Ayesha, her husband and three children aged 5, 4 and 5 months fled Myanmar to find safety in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. “We are happy here, but we cannot eat well, we do not get fish or spices. Since we cannot work here, we do not have any money, so we cannot buy anything.

“Before getting cereals from WFP, I was very weak and my baby daughter, Kafin Ara, used to feel sick every now and then. She was very thin, suffering from malnutrition. Once I started having these cereals, I started to feel more energetic. And as I breastfeed Kafin Ara, she is also getting healthier. She doesn’t fall sick like before and she has gained weight. I feel so happy to see her healthy.”

Still more to do

In 2017, WFP reached 5 million pregnant and breastfeeding women and 5.9 million children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years with malnutrition treatment and prevention programs. And yet, in nearly two-thirds of countries around the world, women are more likely than men to suffer from hunger and malnourishment. Visit our Women and Hunger hub to learn more and help save a life today.

This story is based on contributions by Marwa Awad, Badre Bahaji, Denita Baptista, Anthony Chase Lim, Gabriela Cladellas, Irina Ruano, Shelley Thakral, Francis Thawani, Nina Valente and Max Wohlgemuth.