This week, Save the Children released a new report suggesting that Filipino ‘shortness’ isn’t just a natural genetic trait of Filipinos, but rather is due to generations of maternal and child malnutrition. Undernourished mothers give birth to undernourished children. The report also suggests a link between malnourished and stunted children, an increase in teen pregnancy, and mothers who do not space their pregnancies.
The report found that one in three children, or 33% of the country’s children aged zero to five years-old are stunted, or are too small for their age.
What does this have to do with teen pregnancy and a lack of family planning?
The report found that a majority of mothers at risk of having underweight babies are teenage mothers. Teenagers also face greater pregnancy complications because their bodies aren’t yet fully developed or ready to support a pregnancy.
Teenagers and women who are not using any contraceptive method are also far more likely to have unplanned pregnancies. This often leads to women and girls not realizing they are pregnant, refusing to believe it, or hiding it until they’re well into their pregnancy. This means they don’t get prenatal care in their first or second trimesters, including access to important vitamins or folic acid, which are crucial to a baby’s proper development.
Babies whose mothers do not breastfeed for two years are also at higher risk of stunting and malnutrition – and the most common reason for not continuing breastfeeding for two years is the arrival of a new baby.
When pregnancies are planned, expectant mothers are able to prepare their bodies by eating more nutritious meals, and taking prenatal vitamins even before they get pregnant. They can also wait at least two years before having another baby. Not only can this make the difference between life and death, it affects other health outcomes, including whether a child will have stunted growth.
Save the Children’s report also states that a child’s first 1,000 days – which starts at conception until the child’s second birthday –is the most important time to prevent stunting. Children who aren’t able to achieve optimum growth within this 1,000 day period have a higher risk of problems with cognitive development, which can affect how they perform in school and whether they are able to have successful employment later in life.
Palawan was not mentioned in the report, but we know from City and Provincial Health Offices that malnutrition is a serious problem within our province. So is teen pregnancy, and we can see that this is linked to malnutrition.While stunted growth or being short is just one negative outcome of malnutrition, there are other serious complications from having low birth weight. These include being at risk for asthma and other chronic illnesses that can affect a child for his or her entire life.
Roots of Health advocates for birth spacing and educates young people so they avoid teen pregnancy. This not only leads to healthier and more productive lives for women and girls, it also protects the health of babies and children. When pregnancies are planned, pregnancy outcomes are better. My hope is that in the future, if we can decrease teen pregnancy and encourage proper birth spacing, improved nutrition and breastfeeding, we’ll see the next generation rise up – in height, in general health, and in stature.