Malnutrition early in life can cause irreversible damage to children’s brain development and their physical growth, leading to a diminished capacity to learn, poorer performance in school, greater susceptibility to infection and disease and a lifetime of lost earning potential. Therefore, we need to focus on the critical 1,000-day period: from the onset of their mother’s pregnancy to their second birthday.
Although China has made strong progress in reducing malnutrition, significant inequity exists among different regions. China still has the third largest number of stunted children under the age 5 in the world. Many young children in poor rural areas are not fed diversified and nutritious solid foods after 6 months of age. The resulting micronutrient deficiencies have impaired their physical and cognitive development, contributing to intergenerational cycle of poverty.
Breastmilk is the tailor-made superfood that provides all the nutrition that babies need in their first six months, and longer breastfeeding has proven health benefits for both babies and their mothers. However, breastfeeding in China has been under threat in recent years. 0–6 months exclusive breastfeeding rates are low. There is a general lack of knowledge about the benefit of breastfeeding and optimal breastfeeding practices. In addition, new moms have not been able to get enough support for achieving early initiation of breastfeeding, and many working moms are not sufficiently supported by their employers to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
Starting in 2015, we have worked with the Chinese government and other partners to address these nutrition challenges. In poor rural area, we are supporting nutrition improvement interventions to reduce micronutrient deficiency among rural children. We are also supporting programs to improve the policy and social environment for breastfeeding so that more moms choose to, and receive support for their decision to, breastfeed longer.