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A gift of life

© UNICEF

Four-year-old Shukrona is a typical girl for her age, energetic and forever on the go, with mother always keeping an eye out, not knowing what mischief the girl might get into. But, when Shukrona was born, there was doubt whether she would survive. Shukrona was born premature and weighed only 900 grams. Asalmoh Nazirova, her mother, had experienced this situation before. Her first child was born under similar circumstances and died only a few hours after birth. Asalmoh was not hopeful about Shukrona's chances.

Fortunately for mother and child, Asalmoh delivered in a "baby-friendly" hospital, the first to have earned that status in Tajikistan. The staff at the hospital said that her baby would survive and that breastfeeding exclusively would be the way to make this happen. The staff trained her in the various techniques of feeding an infant so small. Ten days later, the mother and child went home. Asalmoh was confident. The hospital team had assured her that it would be there to help and would monitor her case for a year. A year did go by, and Shukrona was developing normally. End of the story? No.

Asalmoh has become an active member of the mothers support group. What's more, she's become part of the four-person training team that instructs women on the benefits and methods of breastfeeding and other early child-care practices. During the training sessions, Asalmoh encourages mothers to sing and talk to their children while breastfeeding. She also tells them to mimic a child's cry or laugh. Why all these steps?

Aptly named "care for development", the training emphasizes the right of every child to a good start in life and informs mothers that what happens during pregnancy and the earliest months and years of childhood can last a lifetime. The trainers also explain to mothers that holding and touching infants in soothing ways can provide a protective function against the effects of stress the infant, as an adult, might experience later in life.

The whole concept and practice are still new to young mothers in Tajikistan. With UNICEF support, the Ministry of Health aims to reach pregnant women and mothers through this training programme.

For her part, Asalmoh would like to carry on being the advocate and spokesperson of breastfeeding and early childcare. When asked why she had volunteered her time to the mothers support group, Asalmoh responded that she "wanted to bring hope to other mothers".

"When I was a child, I saw my mother breastfeeding my younger siblings, but I was never aware and neither was my mother of the need for exclusive breastfeeding and the extraordinary benefits it brings," Asalmoh added.

Aside from breastfeeding, Asalmoh and other mothers also know the benefits that touching and hugging may bring to children's lives.

Adapted from "Tajikistan", a publication of the UNICEF Tajikistan country office.

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