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Category: Maternal Health

Focus on Nutrition During National Women’s Health Week

By:  Blythe Thomas, Initiative Director, 1,000 Days of FHI Solutions

Minerva Delgado, Director of Coalitions & Advocacy, Alliance to End Hunger

Not nearly enough time or attention is spent discussing and acting upon when “good nutrition” for an individual should start. The answer? Before the individual is even born. This week is National Women’s Health Week and marks an important time for the nutrition and anti-hunger community, individuals, and policymakers, to reflect on what we can do to promote and improve the health of women, children and families. We must focus on supporting policies that build a healthier and more equitable future for all pregnant, birthing, postpartum, and parenting people and their children.  

The 1,000-day window, which spans from pregnancy to age 2, marks one of the most crucial times to provide vital maternal and infant nutrition interventions. The nutrition community has coalesced around this critical window working to ensure mothers, children and families have access to the nutrition they need for vibrant futures. This goal is unfortunately – but unsurprisingly – difficult to achieve across the board. Factors such as race or where a child is born should not affect health and well-being; however, this is a reality in many communities. In particular, families of color and low-income families are more often overburdened with barriers to accessing nutrition and are under-resourced. As a result, there are glaring disparities in the health and well-being of women and children from these households. 

Adequate nutrition is fundamental to the overall well-being of a community because good nutrition impacts more than just physical health. Good maternal nutrition during pregnancy fuels the development of a baby’s rapidly growing brain so by the time that a baby is born, their brain will contain 100 billion neurons. We also know, for example, that children with access to healthier, more nutritious meals are better able to concentrate in school and enjoy better educational outcomes. Similarly, adults who can easily access and maintain a healthy diet benefit from improved health and economic opportunities. Addressing inequities in access to healthy and nutritious foods cannot be ignored. We must prioritize interventions that give every family the opportunity to be healthy.  

To that end, there are a number of programs that merit continued support and strong expansions, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). For example, WIC has bridged the gap between medicine, food, and nutrition better than almost any federal program, leading to improved nutrition intake, healthier pregnancies and improved birth outcomes. Congress has temporarily increased the overall value of WIC’s fruit and vegetable benefit (or Cash Value Benefit (CVB)) through the end of September 2022. So far, this has led to better access to nutritious foods for over 4.7 million WIC participants. Making the increased benefit permanent will significantly close nutrition gaps for women and their children. 

Improving nutrition also means supporting programs like the recently expired monthly Child Tax Credit (CTC). The revamped CTC monthly payment proved to have an astonishing impact on lifting children and families out of poverty. In 2021, Congress expanded the CTC and made the full credit available to low-income families who previously did not qualify because their earnings were too low. Families were allowed to receive the credit in monthly increments, which was vital in helping families with their everyday expenses like buying nutritious food. It is estimated that 3.7 million children were kept out of poverty in December 2001 when the last child tax credit payments were made. Further, nearly half of families who received the tax credits used the extra funds to purchase food helping to address nutrition insecurity around the country. In January, the first month without the deposits, those gains were lost and 3.7 million children again fell into poverty. 

But we must support the overall health and well-being of women and families with comprehensive approaches to address the root causes of poverty and malnutrition. Employers must implement family-friendly policies and programs in workplaces and communities to support women at home and at work. This includes providing workers with sufficient paid family leave, as well as ensuring equitable access to the lactation services and support women need to meet their breastfeeding goals. These policies help make the workplace and our society a safe and enabling environment. The recent pandemic and subsequent inflation have highlighted not only the critical nature of poverty and nutrition programs, but also the vulnerabilities and gaps in supporting those who need it most. All future policies must prioritize making programs more equitable and effective. While Congress has many competing priorities, we know that voters across all demographics deeply care about ensuring women and their children have access to the nutrition they need to be healthy. For example, a recent bipartisan poll by ALG Research/McLaughlin & Associates, on behalf of the National WIC Association and Alliance to End Hunger, reveals strong support for WIC among likely 2022 voters – 83% total support for the program, and approximately 75% support for expanding the value of the WIC food package, expanding postpartum eligibility, and modernizing WIC services.  

This week, let’s reflect once again on the fundamental importance of nutrition for women and girls across the country, and urge Congress to make access to healthy foods and investment in nutrition programs a priority. Ensuring the health and well-being of those who are pregnant and their children is critically important to our nation’s future and requires both focus and determination of policymakers and advocates. 

1,000 Days, an initiative of FHI Solutions, fights to win support for policies and investments in the wellbeing of mothers, babies and toddlers in the U.S. and around the world. 

Alliance to End Hunger unites diverse sectors to address today’s hunger and malnutrition needs and to solve the root causes of hunger at home and abroad. 

Paid Family Medical Leave Remains Critical for Low-Income Pregnant and Postpartum Women

By: Daphna Dror, PHD, RD

The lack of national, comprehensive, and paid family medical leave in the United States has significant consequences for low-income women, especially those who are pregnant or have recently given birth. Many women risk their own or their child’s health to continue working throughout pregnancy and the early postpartum period in order to pay bills and provide for dependents. Only seven states and the District of Columbia have passed their own paid leave programs, meaning far too many new mothers must choose between caring for themselves and bonding with their newborn or making ends meet. 

Paid leave:

  • Supports healthier pregnancies. Financial concerns due to lost wages may prevent low-income women from seeking regular prenatal care, which itself is associated with better pregnancy and birth outcomes. Paid leave reduces the risk of preterm birth, low birthweight, and infant mortality (1)
  • Increases breastfeeding initiation and duration. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months followed by a combination of complementary foods and breastmilk for at least 12 months (2), yet new mothers who plan to return to work before 12 weeks or to work full time are less likely to opt for exclusive breastfeeding (3). A recently published study of participants in the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) found that amongst women who had worked prenatally, returning to work within 3 months postpartum significantly decreased the odds of breastfeeding for the first year (4). Paid time off can alleviate the financial stress of combining work and breastfeeding (5,6).
  • Improves the physical and mental health of mother and baby postpartum. While postpartum depression (PPD) occurs in approximately 11% of all US mothers, a qualitative study in low-income women found that 35% experienced PPD or sadness (1). Nearly one third of low-income mothers who returned to work reported that employers were not understanding of postpartum needs, most commonly requiring more time off (1). Mothers who have access to paid leave and other work accommodations can minimize financial strain and career disruptions while improving their own health, their baby’s health and their bond with their baby.
  • Reduces maternal and infant racial and ethnic disparities. Women of color are disproportionately affected by lack of access to paid leave, exacerbating perinatal health disparities (7). Compared with Caucasians, African-American mothers in the United States are more than three times as likely to die of pregnancy-related causes (8); infants born to African-American mothers have more than twice the mortality rate of infants born to Caucasian mothers (9). Women of color are overrepresented in part-time, seasonal, and low-wage jobs, employment categories least likely to offer paid leave (7).

Of 41 high- and middle-income countries, the U.S. is unique in lacking nationwide paid maternity leave, paternity leave, or parental leave (10). Only 19% of U.S. workers have access to paid family medical leave, with even lower access amongst those who work part-time, in low-wage industries, at small firms, or who are not unionized (11). Universal access to paid family leave is imperative to ensure that all families in the United States have a healthy first 1,000 days and a strong foundation to thrive.


References

1.     McClanahan Associates, Inc., 1,000 Days. Qualitative Paid Leave Report: Furthering our Case for Paid Leave in the United States.

2.     Eidelman AI, Schanler RJ. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Pediatrics. 2012 Mar;129(3):e827-41.

3.     Mirkovic KR, Perrine CG, Scanlon KS, Grummer-Strawn LM. In the United States, a Mother’s Plans for Infant Feeding Are Associated with Her Plans for Employment. J Hum Lact. 2014 Aug;30(3):292–7.

4.     Hamner HC, Chiang KV, Li R. Returning to Work and Breastfeeding Duration at 12 Months, WIC Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices Study-2. Breastfeed Med. 2021 Dec;16(12):956–64.

5.     Rojjanasrirat W, Sousa VD. Perceptions of breastfeeding and planned return to work or school among low-income pregnant women in the USA. J Clin Nurs. 2010 Jul;19(13–14):2014–22.

6.     Johnson AM, Kirk R, Muzik M. Overcoming Workplace Barriers: A Focus Group Study Exploring African American Mothers’ Needs for Workplace Breastfeeding Support. J Hum Lact. 2015 Aug;31(3):425–33.

7.     Goodman JM, Williams C, Dow WH. Racial/ethnic inequities in paid parental leave access. Health Equity. 2021 Oct 13;5(1):738–49.

8.     Howell EA. Reducing disparities in severe maternal morbidity and mortality. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2018 Jun;61(2):387–99.

9.     Ely DM. Infant Mortality in the United States, 2018: DataFrom the Period Linked Birth/Infant Death File. National Center for Health Statistics; 2020 Jul.

10.     Chzhen Y, Gromada A, Rees G. Are the World’s Richest Countries Family Friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Office of Research; 2019.

11.     National Compensation Survey: Employee Benefits in the United States. U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2019 Mar.

Kicking Off #March4Nutrition – Join Us All Month Long

In honor of National Nutrition Month, 1,000 Days is kicking off our annual #March4Nutrition campaign to amplify the importance of nutrition for moms and babies around the world. We invite you to follow #March4Nutrition on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all month long and join the conversation. 

This #March4Nutrition, we’ll get back to basics and focus on good nutrition in the 1,000-day window. Throughout pregnancy, infancy and beyond, families need good nutrition, breastfeeding support, and nurturing care in order to thrive. 

Every week in March, we’ll dive deep into a new theme and explore how nutrition lays the foundation for brighter, healthier futures. Find more information below and check out our social media toolkit full of graphics and messages to share with your online communities!  

Week 1 March 1-8: Women’s nutrition – Access to proper nutrition can help women grow their power. 

Week 2 March 9-16: Benefits of breastfeeding – Breastfeeding has critical benefits for both moms and babies.  

Week 3 March 17-24: Healthy foods and drinks for babies and toddlers – Growing babies need good nutrition to flourish. 

Week 4 March 25-31: Raise your voice – Help us spark action to change the world for moms, babies and families, 1,000 days at a time.  

At 1,000 Days, we believe that every family, everywhere deserves the opportunity to have a healthy 1,000-day window and beyond – and that starts with access to good nutrition. 

Join us this month as we #March4Nutrition for moms and babies! 

Why Nutrition Matters

Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days – Why It Matters

Good nutrition during pregnancy and the first years of a child’s life provides the essential building blocks for brain development, healthy growth and a strong immune system. In addition, a growing body of scientific research indicates that the foundations for lifelong health—including predispositions to obesity and certain chronic diseases—are largely set during this 1,000 day period.

There are three crucial stages in the first 1,000 days: pregnancy, infancy and early childhood. During pregnancy, a mother’s health and eating habits have a significant impact on the development and future well-being of a child. If a mother’s diet is not giving her the nutrients she needs to support a healthy pregnancy and her baby’s development or if it is contributing to excessive weight gain—or both—it can have serious, long-term consequences.

From birth through the first year, breastfeeding provides unparalleled brain-building benefits and gives babies the healthiest start to life. Because of the unsurpassed benefits of breastfeeding, the world’s leading health agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that babies are fed only breastmilk for their first 6 months, but many mothers lack the support they need to meet this recommendation.

And, finally, beginning at 6 months of age, children should eat a diverse diet of nutrient-rich foods to help fuel their growth and development and shape their taste preferences for healthy foods. Throughout early childhood, parents and other caregivers should also teach healthy eating habits and make sure that water and other non-sugar-sweetened beverages become a consistent part of a child’s diet. Deficiencies in key nutrients, poor eating habits and unhealthy weight gain during the early years of a child’s life can set the stage for numerous developmental and health problems down the road.

From India to Indiana, Kenya to Kentucky, mothers and children everywhere need good nutrition and nurturing care in the first 1,000 days to thrive. Yet too many families in the U.S. and throughout the world do not get the food, healthcare or support they need. Whether your organization works to end the crisis of malnutrition in low- and middle-income countries, or you’re focused on the urgent needs of families especially in the United States, thank you for working with us to create a healthier and more equitable future for all pregnant and birthing people, parents, and their children.

CDC Guest Post: Journal Series To Spotlight Importance of Early Nutrition for Health

Guest Blog Post from Dr. Ruth Petersen, Director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity

Good nutrition is essential in keeping current and future generations of Americans healthy across the lifespan. Good nutrition is especially important during the 1,000 days from a woman’s pregnancy through the child’s second birthday. During this time, optimal nutrition is critical for the child’s brain development, their healthy growth, and setting them on a trajectory for lifelong health. 

Yet today, too many families struggle to obtain optimal nutrition during the first 1,000 days. Only a third of women gain the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy and about 16% of pregnant women have iron deficiency. Although most infants receive some breast milk, most are not exclusively breastfeeding or continuing to breastfeed as long as recommended, and 60% of mothers do not breastfeed for as long as they intend to. Among 1-year-olds, on a given day, fewer than half have eaten a vegetable, and 1 in 3 consume a sugary drink. And about 1 in 7 households with children is food insecure, with deep disparities by race and ethnicity.

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, we promote and support implementation of programs and activities to improve nutrition before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and through a child’s second birthday. This includes optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices. We support state and community partners by providing data, evidence-based strategies, and practical tools.

The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), in collaboration with 1,000 Days, intends to publish a special issue exploring the importance of the 1,000-day window from pregnancy to age 2 for maternal and child nutrition and health in the United States. Scheduled for publication in early November 2022, the supplement will highlight how policies, systems, and environments affect the nutrition of mothers and children during the first 1,000 days. It will also summarize the state of the science and research needs related to maternal and child nutrition in the United States. View the full call for papers for complete instructions for submission.

This special issue presents an important opportunity to illuminate the challenges and solutions to ensuring optimal nutrition for mothers and young children in the United States, and to highlight proven policies, strategies, and other solutions to eliminate inequities and health disparities.

The Looming Threat of Malnutrition in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Co-hosted by 1,000 Days, Bread for the World and InterAction, The Looming Threat of Malnutrition in the COVID-19 Pandemic, brought together five speakers from different fields including government, the nutrition community and documentary film, to share their perspectives on how COVID-19 has impacted health and nutrition for women, children, and families globally. The overwhelming consensus: the time to act on addressing dramatically increasing rates of severe malnutrition around the world is now.

The picture is staggering. In many parts of the world, malnutrition related to the pandemic is projected to kill more people, especially children, than the pandemic itself because of COVID-19-related disruptions to food and health systems. Recent estimates show that by 2022, these disruptions could leave an additional 12 million children severely malnourished.

Investing in nutrition can’t wait.

Highlights from the virtual briefing moderated by Jenny Marron, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations at InterAction:

Congressman Jim McGovern, co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, spoke to the importance of investing in nutrition now not later so that we do not lose progress. A strong nutrition advocate, McGovern laid out in urgent terms what is at stake: “We know that each day we fail to focus on the threat of malnutrition, that means another child will grow up stunted, a mother will give birth to a malnourished baby…and a family and a community will have a diminished future.” He followed by explaining we know what needs to be done to combat malnutrition and food security and that investments in the health of women and children are in the best interest of us all. View his remarks here.

Skye Fitzgerald, Emmy and Oscar nominated documentary filmmaker, discussed his film Hunger Ward which chronicles the famine in Yemen. He provided a view of what severe malnutrition looks like in the world right now. Watch a clip from his film here.

Karin Lapping, Nutrition Technical Director at FHI Solutions, outlined the causes of malnutrition and the proven solutions we have to save women and children. She explained that poor nutrition affects every aspect of a person’s life, especially in three main areas: education, health, and economics. But we have the solutions, like the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, which is an extremely successful intervention that saves lives, and is easily scalable. Her concluding remarks were straight to the point: “Bottom line, we have to act now. Children are dying and this will continue to happen. It is an ethical, economic, and human remit. We must reinvigorate efforts towards nutrition. The cost is too high not to.”

Asma Lateef, Director at Bread for the World Institute, highlighted the history of U.S. leadership on nutrition and the need for that to continue by saying: “We know that when the U.S. leads, other donors and partners follow. That is crucial.”

Shawn K Baker, Chief Nutritionist at USAID, provided closing remarks, emphasizing that, while malnutrition is a major threat to the health and wellbeing of many children around the world, it is a problem for which there are numerous, cost-effective solutions. Additionally, if mothers, infants and young children have access to quality nutrition in the 1,000-day window, he emphasized, “we have locked in their ability to survive and to thrive, and that is irreversible.” The United States has demonstrated consistent commitment to ending the crisis of maternal and child malnutrition, even amidst the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, and this leadership is crucial in ensuring the U.S., other partner governments, civil society and the private sector can work together and mobilize resources to have the greatest possible impact. Continued U.S. leadership is critical in improving the nutrition of mothers, infants, and young children— “we know it’s possible, we know it saves lives, and we know it ensures their future.”

Urgent investment in proven, cost-effective, and scalable nutrition solutions is necessary to address the crisis of maternal and child malnutrition and end preventable child deaths. The time to act is now.

Find a recording of the full event here. And for more, read our brief on severe malnutrition and COVID here.