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166 posts categorized "Maternal and Child Nutrition"

Lenten Reflections: Lent as Noisy, Communal, Nourishing

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Tammanna Akter and her child Joy, 18 months, pose for photographs in Char Baria village, Barisal, Bangladesh, on Thursday, April 19, 2012. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Thursday, Feb. 21

By Rev. Meagan Manas

Themes of pregnancy, birth and nutrition easily correspond to the practices, rituals, and liturgical cycles of Christianity. We journey with young pregnant Mary through Advent, and rejoice at the birth of her child—even while we notice that he is born without the care that we would want for our own children. Our most common action, participating in Christ’s communion table, is at its core about eating and nourishment.  We are nourished spiritually as we literally eat together.  But can we find these themes in the season of Lent?

I didn’t grow up in a church that practiced Lent, so for a long time I understood the season as one of personal sacrifice.  "What are you giving up for Lent?" my classmates would ask me. "Chocolate? Pop?" That was the extent of our engagement in this liturgical season. Later, when I joined the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I learned about the spiritual elements of Lent. The season was not about just giving up something you really liked just for the sake of doing it; instead it was about removing obstacles standing between you and God. It was about a realization that the things that seemed so important sometimes were not. Still, the gist of Lent was personal, introspective.  We heard about Jesus in the desert—alone—for 40 days. We thought about the desert as a place for soul-searching, for looking inside, for individual growth. 

40-for-1000_logo_blogThis Lent, I am thinking about another story of 40 in the wilderness. This time it is 40 years, Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert. This story might help us reconsider Lent.  It is not an individual, introspective story.  It is a communal story. And this wandering community, while also considering the big questions about God and their own relationships with God, is concerned with very practical needs: food and water.  Remember the manna from heaven?

This Lent, perhaps we could commit to wandering in the wilderness together. Together with women and children around the world.  And as we wander together, let us cry out for the food each woman and each child needs to get the proper nutrition—especially in that critical 1,000-day window. Maybe this year what we “give up” will be some of our time, so that we can act in solidarity with our sisters and their children everywhere.  Let us cry out through our prayers, through our letters to our representatives, through our conversations with family and friends.  Let us journey together, and let us raise our voice!

Rev. Meagan Manas is staff specialist for Justice and Peace, Presbyterian Women in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and also works part time as program coordinator for World Day of Prayer USA Committee (www.wdp-usa.org).

The Importance of the Best First Food

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A five-month-old boy rests on his mother's back in a small town near Comitan, Mexico. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

By Nina Keehan

Let's discuss one of the most basic forms of nutrition. It's the first, and most important, food in a child’s life: breast milk.

Whenever the subject of maternal and child nutrition comes up, more and more people are talking the critical 1,000-day window of opportunity, which is the period from start of a woman's pregnancy until her child's second birthday. According to a growing body of scientific evidence,  undernutrition during this time is disastrous.

"Healthy development, particularly brain development, depends on getting the right foods at this critical time," according to information in Bread for the World Institute's 2013 Hunger Report. "Hunger during this time is catastrophic, because the resulting physical and cognitive damage is lifelong and irreversible."

When the medical journal The Lancet ran a series on maternal and child undernutrition in 2008, it identified exclusive breastfeeding as one of the most successful interventions for improving child health and nutrition.

That means starting early is vital—and early means during the first 60 minutes of life. A recent Save the Children report, "Superfood for Babies," found that 95 babies would be saved every hour if they were immediately breastfed after birth. Equally impressive is the fact that infants who are exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their lives are up to 15 times less likely to die from diarrhea and respiratory infections, leading killers of young children.

Yet fewer than 40 percent of infants in developing countries are exclusively breastfed. And those low numbers are not isolated to the developing world: An article published by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the United States has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the industrialized world, and one of the highest rates of infant mortality.

"Data from 2003 indicate that 71 percent of U.S. mothers initiate some breastfeeding, and only 36 percent report feeding any human milk to their infants at six months...." the article stated. "Those numbers stand in marked contrast to Sweden, for example, where the breastfeeding initiation rate exceeds 98 percent and the rate at six months is 72 percent.”

Infants who are exclusively breastfed have fewer dental cavities, stronger immune systems, and, research shows, fewer psychological, behavioral, and learning problems as they grow up. Mothers  in the United States also get the advantage of a savings of $1500 a year on formula and feeding supplies.

There are many mothers who cannot, or choose not, to breastfeed for a variety of valid reasons—personal, situational, and otherwise. Still, it’s important to remove barriers to breastfeeding and ensure that all mothers who have a choice in whether or not to breastfeed have all of the information on its benefits.

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.

Lenten Reflections: Food for Thought

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Fresh vegetables for sale at a local market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (Racine Tucker-Hamilton)

Tuesday, Feb. 19

By Inez Torres Davis

I just finished writing a Lenten Bible Study for Bread for the World, and I'm thinking about what it means to live in a nation of plenty. And, well, I feel somewhat ashamed for planning an Easter with special foods. Food snobs take note! 

I am obese. Obesity is a problem in our nation even as many, in the United States and around the world, suffer from hunger.  The importance of different dietary elements in causing obesity remains controversial. While there are no substantial long-term studies to turn to, short-term investigations indicate that consumption of high-Glycemic Index (GI) carbohydrates may increase hunger and promote overeating relative to consumption of items with a lower GI.

40-for-1000_logo_blogSo, maybe there is a place in all of this planned consumption of sumptuous food to consider what it is that I/we really need to eat to live? How much is enough? 

Clearly, we do not live by bread alone! We live by all manner of dietary concoctions. So, I have to wonder—if I could, would I turn stones into bread as evidence that God is with me?  If you could, would you?  And, each time I bless food that, nutritionally, is not best for my obese self, am I daring stones to try and stub my toes because, after all, God is with me?

Belonging to God and living in the world is a conflict waiting to happen from the start. God is not surprised by the dilemma! But, how often do we pretend we have not succumbed to the desires of our nature while at the same time judging the politician or another neighbor for failing to acknowledge the way of the gospel in the decisions they make? 

There are no answers in this blog. Just some reflections since reflecting is one of those things we are asked to do in Lent. Consider it food for thought!

Ines Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

40 Days for 1,000 Days

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By Rev. Nancy Neal

Lent, which begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday, is an ideal time to make your faith real by taking action to eliminate the evils of hunger and malnutrition from our world. Bread for the World has worked in collaboration with Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement to develop a series of Lenten activities around the theme of maternal and child nutrition in the 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child's second birthday.You can find these Lenten resources on Bread for the World's website: www.bread.org/lent.

Also, a series of Lenten devotions, featuring pieces written by women in the movement, Bread activists and staff, and other people of faith will be featured on Bread Blog during Lent. We invite you to check back here throughout the Lenten period for new reflections. We also hope you will use the weekly Bible Study and the many other activities designed to enhance your Lenten devotion.

Rev. Nancy Neal is Bread for the World's associate for denominational women's organization relations.

Voices of Hunger: How WIC Supported My Decision to Breastfeed

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A lactation consultant discusses proper breastfeeding techniques with parents at the Dallas Community Baby Café, held at a city WIC office. (Photo: USDA)

By Amanda Bornfree

Even before my first visit to a WIC office, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my baby. I had only read a little on the importance of breastfeeding, but it was enough for me to realize that I wanted the best for my little one. Breastfeeding offers a host of benefits for both mother and baby. A breastfed baby is less likely to catch pneumonia, develop asthma and allergies, experience diarrhea or constipation, become jaundiced, or die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). A mother who breastfeeds is less likely to have postpartum depression and develop certain cancers, and is more likely to shed her “baby weight." I was in. Sign me up. I was going to breastfeed.

In the waiting room of the WIC office that I visited monthly for my vouchers while pregnant with my first child, there were various wall posters that promoted breastfeeding. It was encouraging to see them. There were posters in both English and Spanish, catering to the diverse demographics of my Chicago neighborhood. The posters displayed information regarding hunger cues from infants, charts that compared infant formula to breast milk, and also the standard FAQ in regard to breastfeeding.

When I spoke with WIC employees they made a point to share facts about the benefits of breastfeeding, and that made me excited about the great nutrients that my body was developing. I learned that if I chose to breastfeed, I could continue to receive vouchers for up to a year after the birth of my baby, if I continued to qualify for the program—if I decided to formula-feed, the maximum amount of time would be six months. If I chose to formula-feed my baby, my vouchers would also have fewer food items on them, in order to make up for the cost of formula. WIC vouchers supply a certain amount of formula for babies, but not enough to cover the total cost of all of the food an infant needs. Breast milk, on the other hand, is not only better for the baby, but free. Wow!

It was at a WIC office that I was first introduced to the role of a breastfeeding counselor. During one of my visits, a WIC employee told me that if I had any questions about breastfeeding, or any difficulty with breastfeeding, there were breastfeeding counselors that I could call for advice. My eyes widened as she explained the details of WIC's breastfeeding program: “Once you give birth, if you are breastfeeding, we have a form that you can give to your doctor to fill out to receive a free breast pump," she said. "You have to be covered by the state to qualify. Since you’re on Medicaid, you do qualify. This will make it much easier for you to return to work or look for a job and continue to breastfeed your baby.”

Once again, I knew that WIC had my back. I knew that they truly cared and had the resources to help mothers during this critical time.

When I think of how devastating it would be to lose the circle of protection around WIC, my heart sinks. I was fortunate enough to know a little about the benefits of breastfeeding prior to visiting my local WIC office, but plenty of women are introduced to these benefits at a WIC office. I had decided that I would breastfeed prior to visiting WIC, but plenty of women have come to that decision because of WIC.

Once my daughter was nine months old, I became a breastfeeding peer counselor myself, through AmeriCorps. I wanted to do for others what was done for me–I wanted to educate and promote the facts about breast milk, and support women on their breastfeeding journeys.

Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in the church relations department at Bread for the World.

The 2013 Hunger Report Is Here

Hunger-Report-2013-Cover-blogsizeThe 2013 Hunger Report, Within Reach: Global Development Goals has arrived.

This year's report focuses on meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets and setting the next round of global development goals once the MDGs expire at the end of 2015. The 2000s were a decade of extraordinary progress against poverty and hunger, but with just three years left before the deadline of the MDGs, a final push and a strong finish will be critical to build momentum for what comes next.

The report (hard copies of which are now available for sale in the Bread store) is accompanied by the launch of an interactive website. Below is a list of just a few of the web features to explore:

Infographics

The Hunger Report website includes a large infographic on stunting, as well as smaller visuals depicting key issues in the report sprinkled among our issue pages.

Video

"Tohomina: Fighting Malnutrition in Bangladesh" tells the story of Tohomina Akter of Barisal, Bangladesh, who is working to keep her 17-month-old daughter, Adia, healthy and nourished so that she can become a doctor one day. Child malnutrition that results in stunting is one of many issues targeted by the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Guest contributors

Read guest pieces on from a wide range of topic experts, including U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva and Michal Challenge International Director Joel Edwards.

The Report in Photos

See the 2013 Hunger Report through a series of photographs highlighting key issues.

Voices of Hunger: My First WIC Office Visit

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A mother talks to a WIC nutrition counselor outside of a farmers market in Martinsburg, West Virginia. (Photo: USDA)

By Amanda Bornfree

A couple of weeks after I found out my husband and I were expecting our first child, we lost our health insurance. We were disappointed, as is to be expected. I had been excited about going forth with my prenatal check-ups with a doctor I had chosen for her directness, serious demeanor, and expertise.

Due to our sudden shift in income, we now qualified for Medicaid and I was eligible for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) benefits. The doctor who I had imagined would deliver our baby did not accept Medicaid. I had to look elsewhere.

A caseworker contacted me and invited me to a WIC clinic. I was a little nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and, ultimately, I wanted what would be best for my little baby. I thought, would I find it there? I didn’t want to stress.

When I arrived at the clinic, I was greeted by a sweet woman with sandy brown hair and a light voice. She was my caseworker. After filling out important paperwork, she went over my options for doctors and midwives. She spoke of each professional with respect and honesty. She shared with me the various options I could choose from. I was a little surprised that I had choices. Once I selected the professional I wanted to visit, my caseworker picked up the phone and made my first appointment. I wanted to open my arms and embrace her. But my first WIC appointment wasn’t over with yet.

“Are you taking prenatal vitamins?” she asked.

Yes, I nodded.

She pulled out a pamphlet about the nutrition that I needed as a pregnant woman. She talked me through it, and answered all of my questions. She then informed me of the WIC monthly vouchers. I would be able to receive foods with essential nutrients for my body and my baby.

Finding out that I could use some vouchers at farmers markets made me smile.  I remember thinking, my baby and I are just as important as the family that is fortunate enough to frequent farmers markets. Though I’ve never believed that I was less than anyone, I was indeed vulnerable—I was pregnant for the first time and my household income had plummeted. The assistance I received made me feel loved and important. It gave my husband and I more faith in our belief that everything was going to be alright. And that faith fed our determination to succeed.

When I looked around the WIC clinic, I saw that I was among a community of women that cared for each other. Different generations, complexions, languages, and experiences—all of us present to keep ourselves and our families healthy. We all believed in that, whether we were there to help or to receive help. We all believed that everyone has the right to live a healthy life, and that a healthy life begins during the period from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s second birthday—the crucial 1,000 days.

Amanda Bornfree is a consultant in the church relations department at Bread for the World.

Does Investing in Women and Girls Mean Leaving Boys Behind?

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Photo: Schoolchildren in Malawi. (Racine Tucker-Hamilton/Bread for the World)

By Racine Tucker-Hamilton

As a woman who is the mother of two sons, I’m often torn between my strong belief in empowering women and girls and raising boys. My personal conflict was very evident last week while attending the Social Good Summit (SGS).

Many of the sessions focused specifically on females: "Women Editors Take on the Intersection of Print, Digital and Social Good," "Connecting Girls Around the World," and "Women, Social Media and an End to Poverty.

As I was sitting through these sessions I kept thinking, where are boys and men in these conversations? Then finally, America Ferrera, an actress, producer, and activist, brought it up. She and fellow actress Alexis Bledel had recently returned from a trip to Honduras where they learned how women and girls are improving nutrition and fighting poverty in developing countries. The trip was organized by the ONE campaign and captured in this video.

Ferrera was a guest on the SGS panel "Women, Social Media and an End to Poverty." She told the audience that, in her experience, investing in women and girls doesn’t mean leaving boys behind.

“From what we saw [in Latin America], boys are raised by their mothers and the mothers will see that those boys have education and a different outlook toward women’s roles in society,” said Ferrera.

Her comments reminded me of my visit to a southern Malawi village last year, where I saw men playing an important role in improving nutrition for women and children. Kennedy Mbereko is one of those men. He’s well known in the Jombo village, where he serves as a member of a care group for a Catholic Relief Services project called Wellness and Agriculture for Life Advancement (WALA). Kennedy visits the homes of malnourished children and then documents their progress and growth.

While his notes and journals are central to his job, his presence alone makes a difference in a community where nutrition may be viewed as a ‘women’s-only issue.’ Mbereko is helping to break down barriers and engage other men in the area—including the village leader—around the issue of malnutrition.  

During Ferrera's panel discussion at the SGS, she also told the audience that we need more men to embrace and support the issues of improving nutrition and ending poverty in their communities.

“We need enlightened men to help change the minds of men who may not see the important role that women play in poverty eradication.”

There’s no question that women and girls must be at the table when determining the best ways to combat malnutrition and poverty, but we have to remember to save a seat for boys and men.

Racine Tucker-Hamilton is Bread for the World's media relations manager.

A Jar of Conversations

Memory-Jar---Notes (2)by Amanda Bornfree.

I entered her office.

Instead of a jar of candy, she had a jar of pretty strips of paper.

She offered me one.  I pulled one out.

There were words on it:

“Where there is hunger and poverty, there is almost always poor access to maternal and child health care.”

And then we had a conversation about the 1,000 Days.

The 1,000 Days Jar is a useful tool for starting conversations about the 1,000 Days movement.  It’s practical, creative, and fairly easy to make. Having conversations about the importance of maternal and child nutrition during the 1,000 day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday can be challenging at times. A 1,000 Days Jar can introduce the issue of maternal and child nutrition to those unfamiliar with it, or spark new conversations surrounding the 1,000 Days Movement.

What You Need:

  1. Computer and printer OR time and good penmanship
  2. Recycled colored paper
  3. Scissors or paper cutter
  4. A medium-sized jar of your liking, preferably a mason jar
  5. A location for the jar, such as an office desk, coffee table, etc.
  6. An informational list of nutritional facts and reasons why the 1,000 Days is important (provided below).

Steps:

  1. If using a computer, cut and paste the provided list to a document. If using pen and paper, write the list out by hand.
  2. If using a computer, print out the list.
  3. Cut out each statement.
  4. Fold each statement in half and put them in the jar.
  5. Place the jar in your location of choice.

 Suggestions:

These suggestions may inspire more conversations on how to make a difference for the many women and children who don't get the proper nutrition during the critical window of 1,000 Days.

1. Create the 1,000 Days Jar with:

  • Fellow church members during Sunday school
  • Friends and family who don’t know about the 1,000 Days Movement
  • Preteens and teenagers in your family
  • The youth director at your church

2. Step it up:

  • Either with a group or on your own, make jars for gifts and give them to friends, family members, or colleagues
  • Add Bible verses and/or spiritual quotes about hunger to The 1,000 Days Jar
  • Visit the Thousand Days website and check out their resources. Add additional facts to the Jar.

Continue reading "A Jar of Conversations" »

Why 1,000 Days?

ITD blog 8.27.12
In early 2011, Desire came to Omoana House, a rehabiliation center in Njeru, Uganda, as a malnourished young girl. But with proper healthcare and feeding – including nutrition supplements provided by USAID, she has grown healthy. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

by Inez Torres Davis.

Nutrition for the pregnant woman and her child through the age of two years is such a critical window of opportunity. Women with our own children or women who have never given birth, but have participated in nurturing children “get” how critical this is. And, maybe it’s easier for us to have these conversations for this reason, but I would really like to see men of faith step up for this one and make the commitment to have these conversations!

The 1,000 Days Movement addresses the need for those who “have” to be sure that child-bearing women, women who are pregnant, and infants from birth to two years of age receive the nutritional diet they require to avoid life-threatening physical and mental health issues such as stunting, protein deficiency, and cyclical starvation. Cyclical starvation is when the body has a hunger season each year in which important nutrients are completely lacking from their diets thus providing short term and long term health problems and in many cases, death.

While visiting three countries in Africa with Bread for the World in 2011, I saw the raw and measurable difference nutritionally caring for pregnant women and infants makes in the life of a community as well as in the life of a child. One Malawi village had not had a single case of cholera since learning how to secure clean water, sanitation, and create supplemental nutrient-rich feedings for pregnant women and babies. Dozens of Zambian infants are receiving healthy starts in health clinics and through the campaign for non-HIV positive mothers to nurse their babies.

Here in the United States, programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the food stamp program) provide a nutritionally sound base for children who would otherwise suffer the debilitating effects of malnutrition. Dollar for dollar supporting the nutrition of pregnant women and babies is money “best” spent whether it is spent domestically or as international development aid.

The call of the gospel is the call to be present with the disenfranchised. I can’t think of a more disenfranchised or disempowered person than the infant born to a malnourished woman. Simply put? This is the work of the gospel. Start to share this good news!

 

Ineztorres-davis-230wInez Torres Davis is director for justice at Women of the ELCA.

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