By Pindelwa Mda
Senior Public Affairs manager Maternal and Infant Nutrition at Nestlé SA
What a better place this world would be if every child from every geography or social class could have a great start in life. An ideal is one thing but the reality is another. Every mother wants the best for her child but doing the best or achieving it differs from one mother to another.
The first 1000 days of life, the period from conception to the child’s second birthday, is a crucial time for every child’s development. It is what some call ‘the brain’s window of opportunity.’
For me, the story of the 1st 1000 days is so critical because this is when the foundations of optimum health, growth, and neurodevelopment across the life cycle are established. This subject resonated so well with me when I first saw a series of brain scans of undernourished children in a TED Talk by Josette Sheeran on “Ending poverty now”.
If a severely malnourished child does not get the right nutrition, by the age of three years, irreversible damage is done. If there is one learning that has kept me awake at night, this is it. As a leader of the nutrition business for Nestlé in Sub-Saharan Africa, where malnutrition is still the biggest killer, the daily challenge was to contribute positively to the addressing nutrition challenges in the continent.
Unfortunately, many mothers do not have the means to give the right nutrition to their children. Many more do not know about the importance of the first 1000 days, while others may get conflicting information about nutrition issues. In addition, decisions affecting or influencing how a child is raised are made at so many levels, within families (nuclear and extended), with friends, colleagues, community, government, healthcare providers and multilateral institutions. Different values and cultural habits also come into play.
Every mother’s pregnancy or child rearing journey is unique, yet so many people seem to have one-size-fits-all opinions, even making judgements around decisions mothers make. One wonders why people would easily judge others and assume they know what is best for them. How can we ever know anyone’s journeys if we haven’t walked in their shoes?
Supporting the first 1000 days of life is fundamental to Nestlé’s purpose of enhancing the quality of life and contributing to a healthier future. I believe that making the infant feeding discussion fact based, putting mothers and infants at the heart of that narrative, is the first step in making a positive contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The end goal for us all should be optimal nutrition and significant improvement in health outcomes.
SDG Goal 2 aims to end hunger and ensure access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round, in particular for the poor and people in vulnerable situations including infants. It also aims to end all forms of malnutrition, including addressing the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant, lactating women, and older persons. Nestlé is committed to contributing to this goal through our rural development, Start Healthy Stay Healthy and Nestlé for Healthier Kids programmes.
My hope and wish is that fact based sustainable nutrition solutions can be found soon, and timely interventions made during this window of opportunity, so that African children can have a chance to have a strong nutrition foundation that allows them to compete with other children anywhere in the world.
Pindi is a Senior Public Affairs manager at Nestlé