Hungry mothers, hungry infants

There is enough food on the planet to feed every human being, yet still 13.1 percent of the world’s population is hungry. Of these hungry people, 60 percent are women. Africa is the continent with the second-largest number of undernourished people, the majority of them living in the sub-Saharan region. Hunger disproportionately affects women, a worrisome trend considering they are primarily responsible for the wellbeing of future generations.

Women face hunger more often than men due to socioeconomic disparities and dominant patriarchal structures that suppress the ability to fend for themselves. During times of extreme famine, they voluntarily go without food so their children have enough to eat. Pregnant women become exhausted by malnutrition due to anemia. Angelina, a malnourished mother in Fashoda, South Sudan, said, “It’s like I’m sick, but I’m not sick. Talking is not easy. When I start to move to work, my head spins. I can even fall down.” She eats only one “meal” a day of porridge, and that meal is usually two spoonfuls after her entire family has finished eating. In addition to this starvation, women are expected to take over work that men are not expected to do, which further robs their bodies of vital nutrients.

Most women are so malnourished that it puts them at additional risk for pregnancy complications. The leading cause of maternal mortality is postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), which is excessive bleeding during and after the delivery of the infant. PPH is caused by anemia, which is subsequently caused by poor nutrition during pregnancy. Iron deficiencies cause low hemoglobin levels, which cause heavy bleeding. In addition to PPH, malnourished pregnant women are unable to produce enough breast milk for their infants, which in turn affects their infant’s health.

When mothers aren’t properly nourished, the long-term development of their babies is seriously stunted. In the first thousand days of an infant’s life – from the start of pregnancy to the child’s second birthday – proper nutrition is essential in ensuring strong physical and mental development later on in life. Early breastfeeding promotes growth of a strong immune system, protecting babies against diseases. However, when the mother is malnourished, the baby loses all these vital nutrients and vitamins it needs to survive. The baby is also more likely to be underweight and 20 percent more likely to die before the age of five. Proper nutrition is important for mothers to survive childbirth and for children to grow strong and healthy.

Women, especially pregnant women, suffer greatly from food shortages. Even when food is ample, pregnant women do not have enough nutrition education to feed themselves properly. When pregnant women are malnourished, they are unable to care for themselves or their infants, and are at higher risk of dying during delivery. Babies need healthy mothers, and we can increase food education to help mothers become more nourished. Changing the way pregnant women approach food during pregnancy could help save the lives of both mother and child.


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