The first 1,000 days of a child’s life — the period from pregnancy to 2 years of age — is a critical window of time that has a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn, and thrive. Ensuring good nutrition starting in pregnancy is essential for building healthier futures for parents and their babies.
Many birthing people lack access to nutritious diets and health care services, resulting in high levels of undernutrition around the world. Over 40 percent of pregnant people globally suffer from anemia, and in some countries, 80 percent of people are deficient in multiple micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) at the start of pregnancy.
Undernutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, during pregnancy can lead to health problems for the parent and cause babies to be born too small or too soon. And if they survive infancy, they are more likely to experience lifelong negative consequences, both physically and cognitively. If left unaddressed, this intergenerational cycle of undernutrition results in health and economic disparities for both individuals and societies.
Prenatal vitamins and minerals support healthy pregnancies
Supporting nutrition during pregnancy, including access to vitamins and minerals, can help ensure a healthy start to life and help break this cycle of undernutrition. Prenatal vitamins and minerals, also known as multiple micronutrient supplements (MMS), have been shown to safely and effectively improve maternal health and pregnancy outcomes. Recent systematic reviews and studies have shown that MMS reduces the risk of maternal anemia and helps prevent infants from being born underweight, too small, and too soon.
Many pregnant people lack access to MMS
Despite the proven benefits of providing MMS during pregnancy, the majority of birthing people globally do not have access to these critical supplements. Many countries provide iron and folic acid (IFA) supplements, which has been a core component of antenatal care for over five decades. While iron and folic acid are important nutrients, research shows that MMS provides greater benefits compared to IFA alone.
In the United States, pregnant people may lack access to MMS due to gaps in insurance coverage, lack of finances, transportation, or other factors. Moreover, pregnant people who are already facing barriers to accessing care are even more vulnerable due to healthcare challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increasing access to MMS globally
To address this inequity, organizations like Vitamin Angels are working alongside governments and other partners to increase access to MMS during pregnancy. Vitamin Angels focuses on three key areas: Creating demand for MMS by collaborating with partners to raise awareness and build consensus around the need for MMS policies and programs, ensuring a global supply of MMS is readily accessible and affordable, and supporting delivery of MMS by designing and testing innovative and efficient ways to deliver as part of antenatal care.
Millions more people, however, still lack access to critical nutrition services, including MMS, and more work is needed to accelerate action globally. This is even more urgent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the projected rise in maternal and child mortality. Investing in good nutrition and scalable solutions, like MMS, is key to building healthy futures.