Big Smiles, Chubby Cheeks

Emanuel’s big, bright eyes and adorably chubby cheeks stole our attention – and our hearts.

By Kim Saam

We had come to his village to talk with mothers, like his, who had been taking Vitamin Angels’ prenatal multivitamins. And while the stories we heard were incredible, it was hard to tear our eyes from this healthy and happy baby. According to his mom, Jackline, taking prenatal multivitamins during her pregnancy helped her regain her appetite and carry to term. Baby Emanuel was a remarkable 4 kilograms (~8.8 lbs) at birth – well above the 2-2.5 kgs our field partners reported as the average. He was easily the most curious and engaged baby we saw that day. Knowing that our efforts played a role in helping give him the foundation for good health is all the motivation we need to continue our efforts so that every child has the opportunity to thrive.


Changing the Story, One Mom at a Time

Vibrant green foliage burst from the fertile clay-colored soil along the road to Bumula cluster in Western Kenya. Omnipresent across the countryside, nearly every home has corn growing in the yard. A staple of the diet in Kenya, Ugali is a cornmeal starch made into a thick paste usually eaten with sauce, and sometimes meat or vegetables. It is heavy and hearty, but low in nutrients. Roadside stands sell brightly-colored tomatoes and red onions. Meals, we learned, are primarily comprised of these basic ingredients, sometimes supplemented with beans and eggs, when they are available.

This relatively limited diet one of the reasons why nearly 40% of pregnant women in Kenya are anemic.  Without the minerals their bodies need, many women in Kenya feed their cravings with the most readily available resource – soil.

Our field partners are working to establish relationships with local midwives, called Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs), to act as the first line of defense against the condition, known as pica. When TBAs learn of new pregnancies in their villages or hear stories about women eating soil, they refer them to clinics run by our field partners where they can receive prenatal multivitamins.

The risks of anemia for pregnant women and their unborn babies extend far beyond cravings for soil. From immediate symptoms like dizziness and fatigue to an increased risk of babies being born too soon or too small, both of which can threaten a child’s life. While prenatal multivitamins benefit all pregnancies, recent evidence shows that the use of prenatal multivitamins by anemic mothers resulted in a 29% decrease in infant mortality at six months.

During our visit, we sat with a group of mothers from the community and listened to numerous testimonials from women who had been eating soil during their pregnancies until they learned about and started taking prenatal multivitamins. As word spread about the availability of the “vitamin angels,” more and more women began realizing the benefits and reported having healthier pregnancies as a result.


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