The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers, Children, and the World

By Chrysula Winegar

July 14, 2016

“Light the lamp of knowledge in every home, transforming our weakness into strength.”

Pregnant women and new moms gathered in a rural village in India to sing about newly learned ways to protect their children through the critical 1,000 days from conception to age two. Journalist and author Roger Thurow was there to capture the conversation for his new book, The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children—And the World.

As the women sang, “Light the lamp of knowledge in every home, transforming our weakness into strength,” Thurow was able to meet and talk with four of them – each just beginning her 1,000 day journey. He called them “ruggedly dainty” – tiny in proportions due to stunting in their own childhoods. Stunting is where a child is prevented from growing or developing properly because they’ve missed key nutritional needs. It is typical in some communities for girls and women to eat last and least – passing malnutrition from one generation to the next—stunted girls becoming stunted women who in turn give birth to low-weight babies. Community health workers are helping these four women and many others see an alternative path, to learn how to break the cycle for their children.  

Picture from Roger Thurow's book First Thousand Days

LEFT: Seema and Priyanshi—2 months; RIGHT: Sanju and Adarsh—2 months

It’s not just Indian mothers learning new skills. A young mother to be from Chicago was also being taught about good nutrition. Jessica wrote a note to her unborn daughter, “I’ll give up everything for you, to make you happy, to love you, to give you everything you deserve.” A good student, during her pregnancy she studied nutrition for herself and her baby like a new school subject. She kept her promise, gradually giving up foods and eating habits that were unsuitable for her baby’s best development.

Picture of a couple from Roger Thurow's book First 1,000 Days

Jessica and boyfriend, Marco

Thurow followed a few mothers and babies in Chicago, USA, Uganda, India and Guatemala, from early pregnancy to the children turning two. Over that time, he documented their challenges, skills growth, health and wellbeing, weaving their personal experiences into the larger global story of malnutrition and undernutrition.

“If we want to shape the future, to truly improve the world, we have 1,000 days to do it, mother by mother, child by child. For what happens in those 1,000 days through pregnancy to the second birthday determines to a large extent the course of a child’s life – his or her ability to grow, learn, work, succeed – and by extension, the long-term health, stability, and prosperity of the society in which that child lives,” argues Thurow.

The First 1,000 Days: A Crucial Time for Mothers and Children—And the World makes a powerful case for making a child’s first 1,000 a global focal point for governments and development organizations. Essential emphasis and investment on education won’t matter if children are missing their key window for brain growth and cognitive development – the very things they need to be able to listen and learn in a classroom once they are older.

Many of the new UN Sustainable Development Goals, or global goals, tackle these issues directly. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Global Strategy for the Every Woman Every Child movement expands the vision for the world’s mothers and children. Ending preventable deaths of mothers and infants is the starting point for creating environments where mothers and children can “Survive, Thrive, Transform.”  Access to education, better nutrition and empowered girls and women in the first 1,000 days are building blocks for a healthy and productive future.

Take Action Challenge

Learn more about Roger Thurow’s critically important book (and order a copy!) here. You can also learn more by following our partners at 1,000 Days who spend all day, every day fighting against malnutrition. With greater investment they project we can save close to 4 million lives.

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Sign their petition calling on parents and world leaders to do better. For themselves, and for babies around the world. Add your name to the petition here.

Lead photo UN Photo/Martine Perret

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