Caring for Moms during the “Window of Opportunity”

There is a critical time when good nutrition matters most: during the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy through a child’s second birthday, adequate nutrition has long-lasting impact on a child’s chances for survival, as well as on long-term health and development.

Among nutrition experts, it is known as the “window of opportunity.” Chronic undernutrition during this vital 1,000-day period causes a child to have irreversible physical and mental stunting, which limits lifelong economic and intellectual potential. There is even a global coalition of organizations called the 1,000 Days Partnership (of which Action Against Hunger is proud to be a member) dedicated to changing policy and driving investment to prevent and treat undernutrition in countries with high levels of stunting to ensure that children grow up to enjoy healthy, prosperous futures. This is why it is so vitally important to care for moms.

One of the most important ways to help a child get the best possible nutrition and a boost for their immune system to promote long-term health: breastfeeding—what experts refer to as “the ultimate natural vaccine” for babies. Global guidelines from the World Health Organization, based on a significant body of research, recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives to achieve healthy growth and development.

To ensure that a baby can survive and thrive, every day and every hour within the 1,000 days can matter, but there’s a special importance placed on the first hour after a baby is born—the recommended time for a new mom to immediately start breastfeeding her child. Studies have shown that initiating breastfeeding within an hour of birth protects the newborn from getting infections, promotes bonding between mother and child, and can increase the chances of a mother continuing to exclusive breastfeed her child for the first six months. Recently, Action Against Hunger’s team in Yobe State in northeast Nigeria had a rare chance to be there for a newborn’s first hour—and play a role in helping the baby get a healthy start to life.

Caring for moms like FATIMA JIBRIL

In the village of Garin Baba, in Nigeria’s Yobe State, Action Against Hunger recently helped mother Fatima Jibril get vital treatment for her malnourished three-year-old daughter, Hadiza. Our nutrition team visited Fatima’s home one day to check on Hadiza’s progress. After greeting and welcoming the Action Against Hunger team, the heavily pregnant Fatima suddenly excused herself and went inside her home. After a short wait—to the great surprise of our team—Fatima’s mother came out and announced excitedly that Fatima had just unexpectedly gone into labor and given birth.

Together with Fatima’s elderly neighbour, the Action Against Hunger team eagerly entered the home to see Fatima and meet her new child. The neighbour noticed that the baby was suckling Fatima’s finger and suggested they immediately feed the baby with water—a traditional practice in many communities around the world. Our Nutrition Assistant, Shuwa Umar, quickly stepped in and reinforced counselling she had been giving Fatima on the benefits of breastfeeding. She explained the health risks of giving water or other food or liquids to an infant under the age of six months.

Shuwa right away helped Fatima to begin breastfeeding her new infant: she showed her how to hold the baby in the right position, and how to put the baby to her breast to stimulate the flow of milk and help the baby’s automatic breastfeeding reflexes kick in. Fatima’s mother was amazed her new grandchild instinctively knew how to suckle. She asked, “How did she learn so fast, yet she has just been born?”

Shuwa Umar, Action Against Hunger Nutrition Assistant, with Fatima Jibril and her newborn
in Garin Baba, Nangere LGA, Yobe State, Nigeria.
Photo: Action Against Hunger Nigeria

The next day, Shuwa and the Action Against Hunger team went back to Fatima’s house to check in on her health and to weigh the baby, who weighed in at 5 pounds and 4 ounces. A few days later, the community health promoter trained by Action Against Hunger travelled with Fatima and her baby to the nearby health facility to ensure that she received the proper medical screening and vaccinations to protect her from deadly diseases.

Yobe State, where Fatima and her family live, is in northeast Nigeria. Across northeastern Nigeria, since 2009, conflict with the insurgency group Boko Haram has uprooted more than 2.3 million people from their homes. In 2016, a massive hunger crisis deepened and worsened in parts of the northeast, namely Borno State. The United Nations has warned that 1.8 million people are now facing the threat of famine in Borno.

We have scaled up our health, nutrition, food security, and water and sanitation programs in both Yobe and Borno States in response to the conflict and hunger crisis. We are reaching more than 2.1 million people in Nigeria. Our work in Fatima’s village is part of a integrated nutrition response program to the humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria.