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Youth power backs Lalitpur’s Baby Friendly Health Initiative

© UNICEF/India/2007
A mother breastfeeding a child

They promote the mission of exclusive breastfeeding through  bonds of trust

LALITPUR, UTTAR PRADESH: Medical practitioners never tire of listing the virtues of exclusive breastfeeding. But fact remains that a considerable percentage of mothers are bound by tradition and do not practice exclusive breastfeeding. While some ultra-modern urbanized moms feel breastfeeding may spoil their figures, there is yet a larger number that often deprive their infant of this ‘manna from heaven’ due to baseless myths, traditions and, at times, even the lack of knowledge on correct breastfeeding procedure.
      
Keeping this in perspective, a group of trainers comprising 26 young men and women have been on a mission of creating awareness about breastfeeding in three blocks of Lalitpur district for the last four months. Through a UNICEF-supported Baby Friendly Community Health Initiative (BFHI) project, they reach out to pregnant women and lactating mothers.

Families, communities can and should become partners in promoting exclusive breastfeeding and complementary feeding:  Dr K.P. Kushwaha.

Impossible is not a word in the dictionary of these enthused young men and women charged with zeal. Unmindful of the scorching heat and dust, the members of this group have been promoting optimal infant and young child feeding practice by forging ahead in their mission of creating bonds of trust.

“We speak to pregnant, lactating mothers, women groups, village elders and try to impress upon them, through counseling and demonstration, how important it is for a newborn to get the initial breastfeed within one hour of birth and exclusive breast feeding upto six months of age,” says Mukesh Tewari, a bachelor in his early twenties. Holding a masters degree in social work, Mukesh has been trained as a master trainer under the BFHI project. His gender, according to him, has not come in the way of his work.

Reena Dubey, twenty-two, is another mission driven team member. Her initial shyness was quickly replaced by a purposeful stance when she became part of this “humanitarian work.”  Today she mixes freely with the village women, and counsels them in their local dialect on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and timely initiation of complementary feeding after six months of age.

© UNICEF/India/2007
Women attending an awareness campaign where they are being taught the importance of breastfeeding

For twenty six year old Sapna Sharma, a mother of a baby boy, pride and joy are her twin rewards when she succeeds in teaching a mother how to correctly position her infant so that the baby can suckle with ease. She describes her experience as “Godly.”

Human breastmilk is available to us at birth: it is Nature’s gift to Mankind. Yet sadly, many mothers do not realize its miraculous powers and are not using it optimally:  Margaret Narayan

Far from objecting to his work, the wife of 23 year-old master trainer Rajender Malviya says she would like to join him in his noble effort. For Rajender, his work brings him immense satisfaction: he is conscious that his contribution which will lead to reduction in infant deaths in the district.

In the last few months, through practical demonstration and knowledge sharing this team of volunteers have helped dispel many myths and superstitions that surround breastfeeding. They have brought joy to mothers who have been able to breastfeed their child. And they have made an impact on the health and well-being of the newborns more than perhaps they can imagine.

Providing an insight into the project, of which he has been a guiding light, Dr Kushwaha, Professor, Dept of Pediatrics, BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur, emphasizes that though regular training of doctors and nurses takes place in city hospitals, it is critical to impart this training at the village level because it is here that superstitions and ignorance abound.

“The aim is to have all babies born in the district exclusively breastfed for the first six months, with appropriate complementary feeding initiated after completion of six months, and breast-feeding to continue upto two years or beyond. We want all mothers to be equipped with the correct knowledge about infant and young child feeding so that children get the best start in life,” says Margaret Narayan, UNICEF Child Development officer, adding that while the project has been initiated in three blocks, it will soon cover all the villages in the entire district of Lalitpur.
 
An apt example of how small beginnings can aim at big changes.

 

 

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