Mother's groups support breastfeeding mothers in Niger
NIAMEY, Niger, 21July 2008 – With a dozen women chatting and laughing, toddlers and older children playing hide-and-seek, the atmosphere is buoyant at Mariama Daoura’s home. Her house is located in an area known as Boukoki, in the urban community of Niger’s capital, Niamey.
Mariama is the peer educator of one of the 100 mothers’ groups supported by UNICEF and Niger’s Ministry for Women’s Promotion and Child Protection in Niamey to encourage exclusive breastfeeding, which consists of giving only breast milk to infants during the first six months of their lives. “Our mothers’ group is called “Wangari”, Mariama says proudly. “It means “warrior” in zerma Ianguage. The reason is that the mothers of this group are very courageous. They can do all what men do: work, contribute to the family’s earning and even raise their children!”
“I really like coming to these meetings”, says Oumoul Kaer Amadou Seydou, 19 years old, the mother of a six-month old baby. “We are taught how to do things on our own. We do not need to wait for our husbands to take the right decision for our children’s health!”
Promoting exclusive breastfeeding to reduce mortality rates among infants
Meetings of this kind are held once a week at Mariama’s place, with about 35 mothers attending on average. “But we had up to 50 women attending sessions sometimes!”, Mariama adds. Seven months ago, Mariama was trained, along with 200 other women, to become a peer educator in her community. Since then, she has been actively promoting exclusive breastfeeding and other healthy practices to reduce mortality rates among infants. Exclusive breastfeeding has many advantages
“I follow all the advice provided by Mariama. Exclusive breastfeeding is good for my son, Hamdan Kadri. He is in better health and rarely gets diarrhoea, as opposed to his older brothers and sister”, says 37 year-old Ramatou Oudou. Ramatou has four other children that she never exclusively breastfed. “Before, I used to feed my babies with herbal tea and milk powder. As soon as they were four months old, I would give them porridge and fruit juice. As I thought that milk was not nourishing enough.”
“At the beginning, some of the mothers would ask me: ‘why should we change our behaviour? These are our customs’. But very soon, they understood that exclusive breastfeeding has many advantages”, Mariama remembers. “First, it reduces families’ expenditures. A box of 400 grams of milk powder costs 2,500 FCFA (about US$ 6): this is extremely expensive as it lasts only two days! Second, exclusive breastfeeding contributes to birth spacing: more and more women in our neighbourhood now wait at least three years before giving birth again.” Niger has one of the highest fertility indexes in the world, with each woman giving birth on average to seven children in her life time.
“To give these women added legitimacy, we make sure that during the first sensitisation session conducted by the peer educator, representatives from the local authorities, from the Ministry for Women’s Promotion and Child Protection and from UNICEF are there”, indicates Mounira Bello, from the Ministry for Women’s Promotion and Child Protection.
Scaling up the project to the national level
With about 200 peer educators already trained, almost 10,000 mothers have already been reached by sensitisation messages. “The objective now is to train an additional 200 women in the urban community of Niamey and another 200 in Maradi, one of Niger’s other main regions. The idea is to scale up the project to the national level”, says Theophile Bansimba, a Nutrition Specialist with UNICEF. In Niger only 9 per cent of women exclusively breastfeed their children during the first six months of their lives.
In Niger only 9 per cent of women exclusively breastfeed their children during the first six months of their lives. In Niger only 9 per cent of women exclusively breastfeed their children during the first six months of their lives.Exclusive breastfeeding is one of the four essential family practices promoted by UNICEF and its partners to contribute to the reduction of child mortality in Niger, a country where one in five children dies before reaching his or her fifth birthday. The other three practices promoted by UNICEF are the use of mosquito repellent-impregnated nets, the use of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) to reduce the impact of diarrhoea as well as hand-washing with soap.
Story by Sandra Bisin