Promoting exclusive breastfeeding in Benin: a success story
According to the 2006 Benin Demograhic Health Survey, more than 9 out of 10 children are breastfed. But the rate of exclusive breastfeeding is still rather low. Only 2 out of 5 children under 6 months are exclusively breastfed.
Support for mother does work
It is a fact that family environment heavily affects exclusive breastfeeding in Benin. So, these women groups work to spread a better understanding of the necessity for an exclusive breasfeeding. Henriette Akouta, leader of one of the supporting groups explained that ancestral beliefs have so much rooted themselves in the people’s mind that they think “decoctions led to more robust and livelier new born”. “They also intuitively believe that yellow milk – milk with colostrums- is not a good one since milk is always white” said Ms Akouta. In addition, they think that milk alone cannot satisfy the babies hunger and thirst. This is why they feed under 6 month babies on water and food to cover up what they believe is its nutritional needs.
Involving men in social change
Thus, women were called in to mobilize their peers on the need to exclusively breastfeed under 6 month babies. They then committed themselves to smoothly ridding the community of retarding beliefs. To do this, they receive training with the financial support of UNICEF and are sent to the ground. Then they organize educative talks with small groups of 5 pregnant women, recruited after antenatal clinic. It is an opportunity to establish a participative dialog with those future mothers on the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding.
The community supports its mothers for the benefit of all
Two years later, results are humble but encouraging with a 14 per cent increase in the rate of exclusive breastfeeding. This has been possible because of the progressive change in perception and beliefs. As Henriette Akouta put it “children exclusively breastfed are stronger and more resistant to diseases”
Story by Gisele Langue-Menye