Nowadays we use the term ‘first ‘1000 days’ to mean the time between conception and a child’s second birthday. We know that providing good nutrients and care during this period are key to child development and giving a baby the optimum start in life.
Mina and Apollo are gazing at their newborn baby, Tunu, with bitter sweet smiles. They are thrilled with the safe arrival of a healthy baby but they remember the child they have lost. Their last baby, Suzy, was born so small and early that she had no strength to suckle.
It was while they, and the rest of the family, were grieving for Suzy that a neighbour told Mina about a new community group, called a ‘Care Group’. In a Care Group, trained ‘Leader Mothers’ teach young mothers, through monthly discussions and home visits, how to care and feed for young children and the rest of the family. Mina was curious so one afternoon she went along to a meeting and found she enjoyed the friendly discussions and cooking demonstrations. One of the things she learnt was the importance of the ‘first 1000 days’.
By attending the Care Group meetings, Mina learnt that her future babies would have the greatest chance of being healthy if:
- She herself is well nourished before she becomes pregnant so her body is ready for the stress of pregnancy;
- She eats well and avoids malaria infection (e.g. by sleeping under a bed net) during pregnancy;
- She breastfeeds the newborn baby within one hour of birth and does not give other liquids or ritual foods, and continues exclusive breastfeeding for six months;
- At the age of six months she introduces clean nutrient-rich foods (such as porridges enriched with eggs and fish, and fruits and vegetables) in addition to breast milk, and continues breastfeeding until the child is at least two years old.
This was a lot of new ideas for Mina and she wondered if they were practical – what would her mother and mother-in-law think about them? What would Apollo think? Could they obtain the nutritious foods that she and her child would need?
Those organizing Care Groups recognize the importance of reaching out to other household members to build support for new practices – particularly fathers and grandmothers and sometimes village elders or religious leaders. Some include demonstration gardens where members learn to produce vegetables and fruit and sometimes raise poultry to improve access to healthy foods especially where they are expensive in local markets.
Mina was lucky – her mother, mother-in-law, and Apollo were supportive and helped Mina eat well before and after she became pregnant again; they too were eager for the next baby to be healthy. So everyone was thrilled when little Tunu was born with a good birthweight, and eager to suckle Mina’s precious colostrum, and Mina, because she had eaten well and taken her prescribed iron/folic acid pills, was strong and not anaemic.
Mina and Apollo have plans for Tunu – that she will grow into a beautiful girl; that they will give her a good education, and that they will make sure she is fully mature before thinking about marriage and babies. They know now that by breastfeeding Tunu for the remainder of her ‘first 1000 days’, and introducing healthy family foods when she is six months old they are giving her a priceless gift – the best start in life. In three years’ time Mina and Apollo plan to start another baby, confident that this one too will be healthy, and a good companion for Tunu.
Featured image credit: Baby by isaiasbartolomeu. CC0 public domain via Pixabay.