Karabo Mokoena
Content producer
3 minute read
19 Mar 2021
3:31 pm

Hungry pregnant women are giving birth to stunted children, feeding the cycle of poverty

Karabo Mokoena

When others easily settle their pregnancy cravings, some pregnant women crave for the first and only meal of the day.

Picture: Freestocks on Unsplash

Poor nutrition in pregnant women and newborn children leads to stunting which is the leading cause of potential hindrance in children.

According to the United Nations International Children’s Fund, the first 1 000 days of a child’s life form the “foundations for optimum health and development across the lifespan are established”.

Living below poverty lines is an impediment to gaining optimum health and delays the development of many children.

What is stunting?

According to the World Health Organisation, “stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial stimulation”.

Poor nutrition, repeated infection, and inadequate psychosocial support are directly linked to living below the poverty lines

In a mission to decrease stunting in South Africa by 2030, the SA-based campaign Grow Great has collaborated with other organisations such as Embrace, Flourish Network, and Sikunye. Together they aim to develop initiatives that have a meaningful impact on the lives of mothers and children.

According to Grow Great, under-nutrition is the biggest contributor to stunting. Other issues that lead to stunting in mothers and babies are:

  • A stressed-out mother;
  • Nutritionally poor diets;
  • Early introduction of solids.

A pregnant woman who lost a job because of her pregnancy is bound to experience maternal distress considering that she is expecting and has no sources of income. Some of these women don’t have the support of their partners and have to fend for themselves. After birth, maternal distress may lead to shorter breastfeeding rates, thus an early introduction of solids.

To eradicate this, they have developed initiatives targeted at pregnant moms and their newborn kids. The Grow Great Campaign believes that “social protection in the form of income or nutrition support has been shown to have a positive impact on maternal and child health outcomes”.

This is why they are advocating for a maternal support grant, and you can support this initiative by signing here. Unemployed mothers are facing harder challenges due to Covid-19 as the pandemic has exacerbated their challenges, taking them further down the poverty line.


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In collaboration with the Stellenbosch University, the Grow Great Campaign launched the CoCare Maternal Support Study report that shows the links between maternal support, poverty, and mental health among pregnant women.

A cycle of poverty

Children that are born stunted are placed at a disadvantage and may experience the below effects:

  • Delayed brain development;
  • Children are less likely to finish school;
  • Earning potential is lowered;
  • Suffer from obesity and other diseases;
  • Continue to live in poverty.

Children that grow up in these circumstances become mothers themselves that give birth to stunted children. This leads to a further continuation of poverty unless initiatives are put into place to revert this.

Being pregnant and hungry do not go hand in hand, and citizens and organisations combined can make a visible difference in communities that are in dire need of support. One in four children in SA are stunted, and this shocking statistic has to be lowered to give children a better chance to flourish.

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