Helping new mothers raise healthy babies
RANGPUR, Bangladesh, April 2010: Sabina Yesmeen has witnessed many social changes in the decade she has been promoting maternal and child nutrition in Mithapukur upazila, Rangpur district, northern Bangladesh. She is one of 480 community nutrition promoters in the sub-district who meet regularly with pregnant women and mothers as well as fathers and adolescents to build awareness of maternal and child nutrition.
“When I first started, there were many social problems,” said Sabina. “Pregnant women didn’t have regular check-ups and were eating less food because they hoped to deliver a smaller child. Lactating mothers didn’t know that breastfeeding within the first hour of birth was important – they thought the initial breastmilk was dangerous because of the colour.”
Sabina combats myths like these at the two-hour mother support group meetings she holds. As Sabina and other promoters explain, the initial breastmilk is incredibly nutrient-dense and full of antibodies that help newborns fight disease. It is sometimes described as the baby’s “first vaccination”.
Mother support groups, which are part of the National Nutrition Programme and supported by UNICEF, reach about 75,000 pregnant women and lactating mothers in ten sub-districts of Bangladesh - and they seem to be having an impact.
Nationally, substantial progress has been made in the rate of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, which increased from 24% in 2004 to 43% in 2007. However the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to six months of age is only 43% and in most cases complementary foods are introduced inappropriately.
The mothers’ groups are helping improve this rate by providing women with practical advice on breastfeeding timing, positioning and attaching the baby.
“Many women are aware of the health benefits of breastfeeding, but in practice fail to do it. This is not due to a lack of movtivation but often due to a lack of technique,” said Dr Md Mohsin Ali, UNICEF’s nutrition specialist.
The support groups also provide information on child nutrition, such as how to introduce solid and semi-solid foods into their baby’s diet appropriately.
When Marina Begum, 25, arrived in the village as a newlywed, Sabina paid her a home visit to explain the programme’s service. Marina has regularly attended Sabina’s meetings since falling pregnant with her son Mohammad Maruf, who is now 15 months old.
“We were not very solvent when we got married and we wanted to be properly mentally and physically prepared for a baby. Sabina suggested we wait at least two years,” Marina said.
Marina now works as a role model for other mothers in the village, regularly assisting Sabina as a peer counsellor at the meetings by sharing her experiences as a new mother. In this way the knowledge of breastfeeding and complementary feeding is passed from one woman to another.
“Marina has learnt a lot and is supporting me in my work. I feel very proud of that. The faces of the babies show that we are doing well,” Sabina said.