Why Nutrition During the First 1,000 Days Matters for Mothers and Their Children

Every child should have a strong start in life. But the reality is that an estimated 149 million children under the age of five are developmentally stunted due to chronic malnutrition during the 1,000 day period from conception until they reach two years of age.

Malnutrition has many causes. A mother’s nutritional status, for example, profoundly affects her child’s survival, growth, and development, as does the child’s access to nutrition in the first hours and days of life.

Studies have shown how women are disproportionately impacted by hunger. Women and girls make up 60 percent of those who are food insecure – 821 million people worldwide. In many cultures, it’s not an uncommon gender norm that women and girls eat last and least after the men and boys have been fed. Moreover, girls who marry during childhood give birth earlier in life.

As young, malnourished women give birth to infants with statistically lower birth weights, the cycle of malnutrition begins again.  However, when a young mother born into malnourishment has access to proper nutrition and nutrition education, she can teach her children the importance of nutrition, effectively intervening in the cycle.

What Is the First 1,000 Days?

The first 1,000 days – the time between conception and a child’s second birthday – is a unique period of opportunity when the foundation of lifelong optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment are established.

What Is the First 1000 Days

Nutrition During the First 1,000 Days

The first 1,000 days are when nutrition has the greatest impact on future health and potential. If adequate nutrition isn’t available, brain development slows, and overall physical growth is stunted.

The role of nutrition

Good nutrition starts before birth — maternal health affects the child in the womb and throughout early development. That’s why we need to understand and support children’s unique nutritional needs at every stage, particularly in the first 1,000 days, since it is the most critical for the healthy development of the brain, body, metabolism, and immune system.

A mother’s diet and her nutrient stores are the only sources of nutrition for a baby while developing in its mother’s womb. When a pregnant woman does not get the calories, key nutrients, or essential proteins she needs to support her baby’s development, her baby’s health is at risk for developmental delays and disabilities.

According to the World Health Organization, breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure health and survival. Not only is breast milk the best source of nutrition for most infants, but it also protects against certain illnesses and diseases ranging from gastrointestinal infections to sudden infant death syndrome. Mothers need a supportive environment, including access to healthcare and community aid, to ensure that they can continue breastfeeding until a child’s second birthday.

What is World Breastfeeding Week?

World Breastfeeding Week is a time to bring awareness to a variety of actions and engage with a wide range of communities around the promotion, protection, and support of breastfeeding. It focuses on ensuring that women receive the necessary support and health care before, during, and after childbirth and promotes various measures to ensure the safety of mothers and their infants to experience optimal breastfeeding.

What Is World Breastfeeding Week

The Work of Our Nutrition for Zero Hunger Partners

Through our Nutrition for Zero Hunger initiative, one of our focal points has been on supporting the programs of our partners — Feed the Children, The Hunger Project, and Save the Children. Our efforts align with the second thematic area of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting the links between maternal nutrition and a child’s survival, health, and well-being.

Feed the Children

Feed the Children’s international programs embody a Child-Focused Community Development (CFCD) approach that offers the first steps to ensure a brighter future for mothers and children. Their four cornerstone pillars – food and nutrition, health and water, education, and livelihoods – work together to develop the infrastructure needed to build a strong foundation for each child’s future.

Through the Care Group approach, a peer-to-peer behavior change methodology, Feed the Children empowers pregnant women and new mothers. This includes training around exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, pre-natal and post-natal nutrition, and supplemental feeding through the child’s second birthday.

Feed the Children helps mothers learn how to select and prepare meals that provide the diversity of vitamins and nutrients growing bodies need. They also promote the importance of breastfeeding and the incredible benefits it offers their infants.

The Hunger Project

The Hunger Project works to improve access to educational resources on maternal and childhood health. To date, they have hosted tens of thousands of women at training workshops in which health care professionals explain the basics of nutrition for both children and mothers and the importance of pre-and post-natal care.

A big part of their work is to monitor maternal and childhood health. For example, children enrolled in The Hunger Project’s African “epicenter” nursery schools are guaranteed access to a complete nutritious meal every day they attend. Simultaneously, professionals at the adjacent epicenter health clinics oversee ongoing child health and weight monitoring. And when The Hunger Project launched the 1,000 days initiative in Malawi, they conducted awareness campaigns on safe motherhood, carried out vaccination campaigns targeting children under five years old, and trained mother-to-mother (M2M) support groups on safe motherhood and nutrition.

Save the Children

Save the Children is partnering with Herbalife Nutrition to improve the nutritional status of children in two districts of Jharkhand, India, through system strengthening and ensuring multi-sectoral convergence. This initiative aims to improve exclusive breastfeeding practices up to 6 months among targeted lactating mothers and increase knowledge level on exclusive breastfeeding.

Breastmilk is the primary source of nutrition for newborns—containing the right amount of nutrients. That is why it is vital to ensure optimum breastfeeding for all children. Save the Children has successfully implemented the 1,000 days program in various states for the last several years to address malnutrition among children. They provided guidance on best practices for breastfeeding as well as counseling for mothers.

The first 1,000 days of life provide a unique opportunity to establish the foundation for lifelong nutrition, health, and development.

We believe it takes all of us to work together to defeat malnutrition for mothers and their children, especially during the first 1,000 days. By working with organizations that share our mission for promoting nutrition education and reducing hunger, we can ensure long-term sustainable changes for the health and prosperity of children, their caregivers, and their communities.

Erin Richards-Kunkel

Erin Richards-KunkelSr. Director, Strategic Partnerships and Corporate Social Responsibility

Erin leads the development and execution of global partnerships and corporate social responsibility initiatives for Herbalife Nutrition. Her background combines analytical and creative expertise with degrees in both biological sciences and journalism from the University of California, Davis and the University of Southern California respectively. Her love of storytelling, science, and social good comes together in her approach for engagement and holistic campaign strategy and development.