What a difference a year makes!

For a baby, the first year is an amazing time of growth and discovery. Meet four babies, from four countries, who thrived this past year.

By Ilvy Njiokiktjien and Anush Babanjanyan
23 December 2019

A lot can happen in a year. In their first year, babies learn to roll over, eat their first solid foods, speak their first words and may even take their first steps. But every year, the lives of 2.5 million newborns are cut short. They do not survive their first month of life, nor do they get the chance to grow and thrive. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Every mother and baby should be cared for by a health worker who is trained and equipped to keep them healthy through pregnancy and the first month of life. With access to affordable quality health care, all families can have the chance to see what a difference a year makes.


UNICEF/UN0188829/Njiokiktjien VII Photo
UNICEF/UN0336370/Babajanyan VII Photo

Sugarmaa, whose name means 'Friday' in Tibetan, was born in a health centre near her family’s ger (a traditional style dwelling) in Mongolia. Her mother, Delgermurun, could stay close to her family in the days leading up to her birth as the centre was equipped with a ‘mother waiting house’, Delgermurun says, “I was so happy and glad after she was born. As soon as I saw her, I knew she looked like me. I didn’t know her sex before birth, but I’m so happy to have three girls now.”

One year later, Sugarmaa’s growth and overall development are good. She is quick to comprehend — she learns best from watching what others are doing and copying their actions — but she can grow frustrated at times. She plays with her siblings and their toys and enjoys using teacups to play with water and tea. Purevji, Sugarmaa's father, plays an active role in caring for her; playing and reading to her. Speaking of his three daughters, he says, “I want them to be like me – a hard working person. We are trying our best for our children to become educated, intelligent and good people.”


UNICEF/UN0188863/Njiokiktjien VII Photo
UNICEF/UN0336461/Babajanyan VII Photo

Ayedatujannah was born 8 weeks premature, weighing just 2 kilograms. Her arrival into the world wasn’t easy. She didn’t cry after she was born, but convulsed and turned blue. She spent four days on life support at the UNICEF-supported Special Newborn Unit (SCANU) in Bangladesh and thanks to this care, as well as her mother’s loving breastfeeding, she survived. Her mother, Jannatul, says, “We weren’t sure if she was going to live or die. When she survived, it was as if she was coming back from heaven. When I realized she was going to make it, it was the best thing I could ever get in life.” She is now called Tahiat for short, but her full name means ‘Greetings, she who returned from heaven.’

When Tahiat turned one, her family had a large celebration. She is still breast-fed and will be until she reaches 24 months old. Jannatul notes her diet now includes “quail’s eggs, chicken eggs, chicken, fish, fish eggs, potato, dhal and corn. She likes tomato and mixed vegetables with salt. Bananas are her favourite fruit. She likes slightly warm cow’s milk with sugar. But she really likes cold water. And she loves solid ice!”


UNICEF/UN0197886/Njiokiktjien VII Photo
UNICEF/UN0331243/Babajanyan VII Photo

Liam, an only child, was born to his mother Verónica, at a health centre in a district of mainly indigenous citizens of Quechua descent in Peru. “I’ve worked in this district since 1996... since UNICEF started working here,” says Rene Alcira Berrio Huancahuire, a licensed nurse. “[In recent years] we’ve been able to visit communities and pay more attention to birth and development controls for the children... In the past, it was so difficult, the community wouldn’t let us in their homes. They would just close their doors and say they were busy. Now they let us in, and they even go to the clinic.”

One year after his birth, Verónica reports that her son Liam has been healthy, and doesn’t suffer from anaemia, which is endemic in the region. “He eats everything,” she says, and beyond breakfast — a porridge made from maize and potatoes — he has a rather varied diet. Liam's favourite foods are carrots, cheese, corn, peas, pumpkin soup, taro and milk. “I also make smoothies for him from carrots, beets, alfalfa sprouts,” Verónica says. “Sometimes I also blend in the skin of a banana and crushed eggshells.” Thanks to nutrition trainings from a midwife, his mother improved his diet.


UNICEF/UN0201111/Njiokiktjien VII Photo
UNICEF/UN0338546/Babajanyan VII Photo

Malado was born in Mali, without complications and in good health, the youngest of four children. Her mother Masibiry says, “I was happy when I saw her for the first time. I want her to be healthy. I dream of being able to save money for her, so that when I’m not there anymore, she will continue to be well. When the baby came, I was in so much pain – I thought I was going to die in the car driving me to the hospital. But as soon as she was born, and we locked eyes, she started crying. I was so happy.”

More than a year later, Malado is still breastfeeding. At 7 months old, Malado had her first solid food, porridge. “Normally she eats porridge, beans, potatoes. But she loves breastmilk,” continues Masibiry. Malado also eats eggs, fish, beef and chicken. She shares some toys with her siblings and enjoys playing with her father, Adama. “When I get back from travelling, she runs to see me,” he says. “She’s very lively, she’s running all the time. We always have to keep an eye on her. She’s fast, even faster than other children older than her.”

Every year, UNICEF is supported by individuals around the world to help deliver nearly 20 per cent of the world’s newborns. Thanks to this support, babies are getting the chance to survive, and families are celebrating these first-year milestones, giving every family the chance to see what a difference a year makes.