Afghanistan

With passion and hope, health workers share a simple message: breastfeed

 

By Rajat Madhok

Community health workers in Afghanistan are helping more mothers understand how breastfeeding brings benefits to the child, the mother and the whole family.

KABUL, Afghanistan, 6 August 2013 - Zakiya is the proud mother of four healthy children, all of whom have been breastfed exclusively during their first six months, and complementarily breastfed till they turned 2 years old. Together with her husband, she has planned the age difference between her four children perfectly. With more than two years between each child, 37-year-old Zakiya is healthy, and her body has been strong enough to handle each pregnancy.

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© UNICEF Video
When she was expecting her fourth child, 37-year-old Zakiya says she was told a pregnant mother should not breastfeed her children. With her family's support, Zakiya continued breastfeeding until her elder daughter was 2 years old.

“I could plan the pregnancies well and exclusively breastfeed my children simply because I had the complete support of my husband,” she says. “If your husband supports you, the rest of the family tends to supports you as well – otherwise it can be very difficult to breastfeed your children the correct way.”

Zakiya, an educated woman who lives in an affluent neighbourhood, describes finding herself in a challenging situation. “I was under pressure to stop breastfeeding my third child, as I was pregnant again,” she says. “But my husband stood by me, and I continued to breastfeed my daughter till I was seven months pregnant, as that’s when my daughter completed two years.”

Community outreach

Across town, in a poorer part of Kabul, 60-year-old Waziru, a community health worker, spends her day counselling pregnant women and young mothers. She teaches them how to breastfeed children and talks about the importance of vaccinations.

“People are now more aware about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, and that is because health workers go from house to house and talk to families about its importance,” says Waziru, who is responsible for monitoring 150 families in the area. “Today most families in my area know how to take care of little children.”

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© UNICEF Video
Waziru, a community health worker, spends her day counselling pregnant women and young mothers on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.

Waziru and many other community health workers are working tirelessly to educate mothers and families on the importance of breastfeeding. They talk to new parents and their extended families about how breast milk is all a baby normally needs in the first six months, with no extra foods or liquids. They also explain how a mother’s breast milk is essential to supporting a baby’s brain development and immune system.

“Breast milk also provides critical antibodies to fight illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, two of the main causes of child death in Afghanistan,” Waziru says.

In Afghanistan, most mothers breastfeed their children during the initial few months, but too many of them stop exclusively breastfeeding their children and begin to give their children other food. According to the most recent survey figures, almost 40 per cent of children under 6 months receive liquids or foods other than breast milk. Feeding children liquids or solids in the initial six months can seriously affect their health and restrict overall development.

A supportive environment

UNICEF works closely with the Ministry of Public Health in training community health workers like Waziru, who go house to house counselling pregnant and lactating mothers on the correct positioning to breastfeed effectively. They emphasize the importance of feeding colostrum to the child in the first few hours after birth and show mothers how to prevent and treat conditions such as cracked nipples and engorgement. They also discuss cultural beliefs and practices that can have negative effects on a new mother.

“Exclusive breast feeding alone can reduce nearly 13 per cent of deaths of children under 5 years of age in Afghanistan,” says SM Moazzem Hossain, UNICEF Afghanistan’s Chief of Health and Nutrition. “We are working with the Ministry of Public Health to create conducive environments where new mothers get support from their communities to continue breastfeeding. And when they have difficulties and come to the health centres, they get proper counseling by trained and skilled health care providers.”

Back in downtown Kabul, Waziru is holding a community meeting with young mothers. She speaks with passion and hopes that every mother follows the simple yet critical information that she shares.

“My house is open to all women any time of the day, I am there to help and guide them,” says Waziru, who is clearly loved and respected in her community.


 

 

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