You Asked, We Answered: How Does WFP Help Mothers and Babies?

World Food Program USA
May 20, 2019

When it comes to chronic hunger and malnutrition, pregnant women and young children are among the most vulnerable in the world.

This is especially true during the first 1,000 days—from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday—when both mother and baby require specific nutrients for a healthy and successful future.

When mothers and babies are unable to get the right nutrition during this critical window, the consequences are serious and irreversible. Malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of life can cause irremediable damage to cognitive and physical development and is responsible for the deaths of more than 3 million children each year.

Photo: WFP/Rein Skullerud

Maria Joao is 23 years old and has three daughters. Before the cyclone in Mozambique, she and her husband caught and sold fish. Now her family gets a warm meal from WFP at a school shelter.

According to the nonprofit 1,000 Days, close to 200 million children suffer from chronic nutritional deprivation that leaves them permanently stunted—or unable to achieve their full potential to grow and thrive—and keeps families, communities and countries locked in a cycle of hunger and poverty. Stunting is one of the many examples of irretrievable damage caused by malnutrition.

“When I first started traveling to Africa, I would often meet children in the villages I was visiting and try to guess their ages. I was shocked to find out how often I guessed wrong. Kids I thought were 7 or 8 years old based on how tall they were — would tell me that they were actually 12 or 13 years old.” — Bill Gates

Photo: WFP/Marco Frattini

Mohamed Hesham was 8 months old when he arrived at a WFP nutrition center in Yemen and was immediately treated with nutrition supplements. Sadly, a few days after this photo was taken, Mohamed passed away due to the severity of his condition.

Stunting doesn’t just refer to a child’s physical development either. Malnutrition can also seriously harm brain development. Stunted children are more likely to fall behind at school, miss key milestones in reading and math, and go on to live in poverty. When stunted children don’t reach their potential, neither do their countries. Malnutrition saps a country’s strength, lowers productivity and keeps the entire nation trapped in poverty.

With nearly 60 percent of the world’s chronically hungry people being women, there is an inextricable link between malnourished mothers and their babies. According to WFP USA President and CEO Rick Leach, the key to ending malnutrition is not a mystery, nor does it require a high-tech innovation. It starts with the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. And it starts with the mother.

This is why WFP has made a commitment to protect those who need it most including making sure families across the global receive the necessary nutrition during the first 1,000 days of their child’s life.

Photo: WFP/Ranak Martin

A mother receives complementary nutrition food for her 7-month old baby in Bangladesh.

WFP’s programs to improve maternal and child health include:

  • Providing nutrition education for expectant and new mothers, including the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to age six months.
  • Distributing fortified, ready-to-eat foods like Plumpy Nut that are rich in minerals and essential vitamins.
  • Helping communities gain access to clean water and adequate sanitation to reduce the risk of diseases that rob the body of its ability to absorb vital nutrients.
  • Partnering with other humanitarian NGOs, national governments and grassroots organizations on the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement to create an inclusive, multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral strategy to tackle maternal and child malnutrition.

Last year, WFP reached 7.3 million malnourished children and 3 million expectant and nursing mothers with special nutritional support thanks to the support of our donors, volunteers and a steadfast team of hunger experts living and working around the world.

Got a question of your own? Email us at