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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Displaced mothers and their children get help at UNICEF-supported breastfeeding centre

© UNICEF Georgia/2008/ Volpe
Displaced mother, Rusudan Buchukuri, with her three-week-old son, Roland Chanadiri. She is receiving breastfeeding counsel in a UNICEF-supported shelter.

By Maya Kurtsikidze

GENEVA, Switzerland, 11 September 2008 – In a classroom in a public school in Tbilisi, mothers held their newborn infants and shared stories of their flight from last month’s fighting in and around South Ossetia, Georgia. A week after their displacement from the region around Gori, only two of these new mothers had been able to resume breastfeeding.

“After we fled from Gori, where I gave birth to Roland, my health worsened,” said Rusudan Buchukuri, 21. “I was on an IV when [the conflict] began, and the doctor said it would be too risky to move.”

Ms. Buchukuri's tale of an evacuation fraught with difficulties is similar to that of many new mothers in the conflict area. First, the arrival of hundreds of wounded residents necessitated her premature hospital discharge. Next, she sought refuge from the nearby conflict in a temporary shelter. When food and water ran out at the shelter, she was forced to move again.

Altogether, nearly 10,000 of the approximately 100,000 people displaced across Georgia were mothers with children under the age of two.

A shelter just for mothers

Ms. Buchukuri and 20 other mothers have found relief at centre in Tbilisi specifically for mothers who are breastfeeding. The centre is operated by Georgia’s Ministry of Education and Science, with support from UNICEF.

It is stocked with all the equipment necessary for nurturing new mothers and babies, including medical devices, baby clothes and beds, as well as plenty of clean, hot water. Similar services are being provided to mothers in other centres for the displaced.

“It’s crucial not only to give all the necessary support to those mothers, but to explain the importance of breastfeeding, calmness and love for their children,” said UNICEF's Dragoslav Popovich.

Positive outlook brings results

Local child-care experts have also been deployed to offer psychological support as well as tips on breastfeeding and child-rearing.

“During the fighting, most of these mothers were traumatized and temporarily forgot their main duty – child care,” said a director at Tbilisi’s Iashvili Child Clinic, Keti Nemsadze, who is one of the experts deployed by UNICEF. “That’s why they lack breast milk now. However, if they do not panic and start feeding their infants even if there isn’t enough milk in their breast, that milk will return.”

While it remains uncertain when these mothers and other displaced people will able to return to their homes, many already seem to recovering.

“I was already going to start artificial formula feeding for Mariam, as I had lost hope in my breast milk,” said Lia Kazarashvili, a 26-year old mother who fled the Gori region several weeks after giving birth to her daughter. “But the doctors here have explained how to restore my milk. They told me to think nice thoughts when nursing, to think about Mariam’s happy future and her future joyful life. This method really helps. After feedings Mariam is in a good mood and sleeps well”.



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