Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days - State of the World's Mothers 2012

from Save the Children
Published on 07 May 2012

Niger is the worst place on the planet to be a mum, new research published today by Save the Children has found.

The West African country, one of the world’s poorest, has replaced Afghanistan at the bottom of the children’s charity’s annual State of the World’s Mothers ranking.

The index compares conditions for mothers in 165 countries around the globe, looking at factors such as mother's health, education and economic status, as well as critical child indicators such as health and nutrition.

The report reveals the impact nutrition has on the wellbeing of mothers and children. Of the ten countries at the bottom of the index, seven are currently facing a food crisis -with Niger at the epicenter of a developing emergency that is threatening the lives of up to a million children.

Four of the bottom ten countries have seen an increase in stunting over the past two decades - where children's mental and physical growth is permanently blighted by malnutrition - robbing children of the chance to fulfill their potential.

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of at least a fifth of maternal mortality and more than a third of child deaths globally. The research is being released ahead of this year’s crucial G8 meeting, where food security will be discussed.

Brendan Cox, Save the Children’s director of policy said: "The 2012 State of the World's Mothers shows clearly that this crisis of chronic malnutrition has devastating effects on both mothers and their children. We urgently need global leadership on malnutrition that results in key nutrition projects being rolled out for mothers and babies to ensure their health and survival."

The report details a vicious cycle of how mothers, who may themselves have been stunted in childhood, go on to give birth to underweight babies who have not been adequately nourished in the womb. If a mother is impoverished, overworked, poorly educated and in poor health, she may not be able to feed the baby adequately, with largely irreversible effects.

The report highlights that the best method for protecting the pregnant mother and her baby from malnutrition, breaking this vicious cycle, is to focus on the first 1000 days starting from pregnancy.

In new research for the report, Save the Children found that the simple measure of supporting mums to breastfeed could save one million children's lives a year. Currently less than 40% of all infants in developing countries receive the full benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.

Norway topped the index as the best place to be a mother, with the UK coming 10th. Among the report's recommendations are that:

  • The G8 must deliver bold commitments to tackle the hidden global crisis of chronic malnutrition, blighting the lives of millions of mothers and children;

  • All governments must make fighting malnutrition a priority, setting targets for their own countries and around the world;

  • Developing country governments should scale up nutrition programmes around the first 1000 days, from a mother's pregnancy to the child's second birthday;

  • Developing country governments must commit and fund national nutrition plans of action - including breastfeeding - that are aligned with plans for maternal and child health;

  • Donor countries should continue to keep their commitments to deliver their international assistance budgets, so that governments can continue to invest in global health and development, including nutrition.