By Cat-Dan Lai-Smith

When I was expecting my son a few years ago, I learned to anticipate the usual questions that most pregnant women receive, even from complete strangers.

“When are you due?”

“Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”

And inevitably, “Do you have any weird cravings?”

Sadly, I didn’t have any exceptional cravings to report. In fact, I was rather distressed by the fact that I couldn’t seem to stomach any red meat for nearly half of my pregnancy. Apart from an ongoing fear that my baby wouldn’t receive the proper nutrients, I did panic slightly at the possibility that I might have to endure nine months or longer without a steak or hamburger.

The First 1,000 Days

Many people here in the United States don’t realize the crucial 1,000-days window between conception and a toddler’s second birthday. The reality is that the level of nutrition received during this time, starting in the womb, can significantly impact a child’s ability to grow, learn, and withstand common illnesses for the rest of his or her life.

I was extremely blessed to experience my birthing journey here in the United States, where mothers have an impressive selection of food, nutrition, and support available to them before, during, and after their pregnancies.

Take prenatal vitamins, for example. It fascinated me to learn that I could choose mine based on how they tasted, how difficult they were to swallow, and whether or not the oils they contained were harvested from fish in the waters of Norway.

After giving birth, I relied on the invaluable support of several lactation consults who helped me learn how to nurse my son properly. Based on all that I had learned about the amazing benefits of breast milk, I was determined to offer my son the best source of nutrients immediately after he was born.

Understanding Undernutrition

Tragically, millions of mothers and their little ones do not receive the right nutrients during pregnancy and beyond. Even if they receive enough calories to eat, they can become malnourished if the food they eat doesn’t provide their bodies with enough vitamins and minerals.

Also technically known as “undernutrition,” this lack of nutrients kills 3.5 million babies and toddlers a year or can leave them with irreversible damage.

For children under the age of two, undernutrition can weaken a child’s immune system and make him or her more vulnerable to dying from common illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria.

Feeding the Future

The great news is that simple and affordable solutions exist to help moms and their children have access to better nutrition in the 1,000-day window.

World Vision is working with other like-minded partners, organizations, and government programs to ensure mothers and young children get the vitamins and minerals they need. This also includes teaching mothers about breastfeeding, and how to grow and prepare healthy foods for older babies and toddlers.

According to the 1,000 Days partnership of advocates fighting to improve nutrition for mothers and their young children, simple interventions like providing clean drinking water could save more 1.5 million lives a year by reducing the risk of toddlers dying from something such as diarrhea.

As a mom, I would everything in my power to protect my son, especially from something that I can prevent like pneumonia or diarrhea.

Therefore, I urge you to speak out [this action has expired] with me this Mother’s Day so that other moms can do the same.

What You Can Do

Join us in urging President Obama to support policies that prioritize simple nutritional interventions, and urge him to take the lead in making sure “the least of these” have enough to eat.

Contact him [this action has expired] today to tell him that you believe in a world where “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days,” (Isaiah 65:20).

Ask him [this action has expired] to ensure that the U.S. government provides leadership and resources to ensure that children can thrive far beyond their fifth birthday.

Act now [this action has expired] to help save millions of moms and their babies from undernutrition.

Photo: At nearly 9-months pregnant, Oeung Pheng, age 33, regularly comes to Anlong Kngan Health Center to get her health checked. © 2011 World Vision/ photo by Sopheak Kong

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