Saving lives in the first 1,000 days

How early nutrition can make the difference in a child’s life

Alice Maro
Jul 18, 2019 · 4 min read
The nutrition support Joyce Mihinzo received was crucial for her baby Tamari’s healthy growth. Photo: WFP/Alice Maro

Staring into her big brown eyes and admiring her healthy-looking skin, one cannot tell that Tamari Jummanne Medaa, now aged 2, was born premature.

In the early stages of her third pregnancy, Tamari’s mother, Joyce Mihinzo was enrolled in the Boresha Lishe nutrition project at Chamwino Health Centre in Maduma village in Central Tanzania. Funded by the European Union (EU), Boresha Lishe — meaning ‘better nutrition’ in Swahili — is implemented by he World Food Programme (WFP) and Save the Children.

Already the mother of two young boys, aged 5 and 10, Joyce received micronutrient supplements (iron and folic acid), tetanus vaccinations, nutrition education, nutrition counselling and a monthly take home ration of specialized nutritious cereals, fortified with essential vitamins and minerals.

This fortified cereal mix is traditionally made into porridge. Photo: WFP/Zainul Mzige

Ensuring that a baby gets the right nutrients in the first 1,000 days of life — the time between conception and their second birthday— is vital for allowing brain development and optimum physical growth. Yet too often in developing countries, poverty, undernutrition and an insufficiently diversified diet lead to poor health, substantial loss of neuro-developmental potential and even child mortality.

The nutrition support Joyce received helped her maintain a healthy weight during the first two trimesters of her pregnancy. Unfortunately, just four weeks shy of her due date, a family emergency occurred which put high levels of stress on her and the pregnancy. She had to leave home with her sons and stay at her sister-in-law’s house on the outskirts of the village. Far from the health facility and unable to follow a proper, nutrient-rich diet, Joyce felt a change in her health. Fearing for her baby, she eventually found a way to return home with her children.

Every second counts

When Joyce went into labour 36 weeks into her pregnancy, she knew something was wrong. Although she only lived 1 km from the health center, there were no transport options and she was forced to walk there.

Through each excruciating contraction, and with only stars and a mobile phone flashlight to light the way, Joyce made her way to the health facility, where medical staff noticed she was suffering from pregnancy complications. She was immediately placed in an ambulance and rushed almost 40 km to the Regional Referral Hospital in Dodoma city.

Keeping warm to stay alive

At the referral hospital, Joyce was closely monitored by medical staff and treated for Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM). Shortly after beginning treatment, she gave birth to Tamari who weighed 2.3 kg.

A grandmother comforting her grandchild who is receiving treatment for Moderate Acture Malnutrtion (MAM) at Dodoma Referral Regional Hospital. Photos: WFP/Zainul Mzige and WFP/Alice Maro

Typically, once a newborn baby is outside the controlled environment of the mother’s womb, their body temperature drops and needs to be regulated. With little body fat on their tiny frame, premature babies are born with low body temperatures which they are unable to regulate on their own.

To regulate Tamari’s temperature, doctors placed her in a special nursery unit. She was suffering from jaundice, with her skin turning yellow mainly because of her preterm birth, but also because she was not getting enough breast milk from her mother.

Joyce was supported with nutrition education and counselling and put on a special diet to help milk production. Within a few days, she was producing enough milk to feed Tamari: the baby’s skin returned to its natural colour and she started gaining weight. Looking stronger and healthier, mother and child were discharged from hospital and returned home to continue the treatment at Chamwino Health Centre.

Healthy baby, happy mother

Upon returning home, Joyce introduced Tamari to her older brothers and immediately went looking for the remaining packet of the fortified cereals she had been receiving under Boresha Lishe.

“If it wasn’t for the fortified cereals, I don’t think my daughter would have recovered as quickly she did.”

She immediately made herself a bowl of porridge and continued to consume it on a regular basis. Joyce resumed her hospital checkups and was supported with more fortified cereals which helped to further boost her milk flow and Tamari’s healthy weight gain. At 6 months old, and after exclusive breastfeeding, Tamari was then able to consume the porridge herself.

“If it wasn’t for the fortified cereals I had once I got home, I don’t think my daughter would have recovered as quickly she did,” saysJoyce.

Now aged 2, Tamari has completed the Boresha Lishe 1,000-day cycle and is a happy, healthy toddler. Joyce attributes her child’s health to the support she received through the nutrition project.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Tanzania

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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