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Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, breastfeeding programme works to lower infant mortality

© UNICEF video
A mother breastfeeds her baby under the midday sun in the bustling village streets of Koupela, Burkina Faso.

By Nina Martinek

In a developing country, a child who is breastfed is almost three times more likely to survive infancy than one who is not. World Breastfeeding Week, now under way, is observed in over 120 countries by UNICEF and its partners to promote exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

KOUPELA, Burkina Faso, 4 August 2006 – In the heat of the midday sun on a busy village street, a young mother breastfeeds her three-month-old son. She knows it is the optimal source of nutrition for the child.

UNICEF and its partners are working to spread that knowledge to more mothers here and in neighbouring nations.

Lack of breastfeeding is a major cause of undernutrition. Without the irreplaceable micro-nutrients that breast milk provides, children become susceptible to communicable diseases, wasting and stunting.

In the Sahel region – the vast arid zone that stretches across Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – one in five children in the region will die before reaching his or her fifth birthday. The problem is exacerbated by food insecurity, unhygienic environments and poor feeding and care practices.

© UNICEF video
A young mother nurses her baby as she attends the UNICEF-sponsored programme that supports infant nutrition and breastfeeding in Koupela, Burkina Faso.

Maternal well-being is key

Many of these child deaths can be prevented by a strategic approach to nutrition and support of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Since 1990, breastfeeding rates have increased five-fold in western and central Africa. But the Sahel still has the lowest rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the developing world.

Supporting breastfeeding means caring for the health of the mother as well as that of the infant. Because the mother’s nutritional status before and during pregnancy is important for her milk content, maternal well-being is key to infant survival and health. 

Even if a mother is moderately malnourished, however, the quality of her breast milk is still better than formula.

Breastfeeding programme results

In collaboration with the local community, USAID and Plan International, UNICEF has operated a programme to promote exclusive breastfeeding and child nutrition in Burkina Faso’s Koupela District since 2001. At the start of the programme, 20 mothers were chosen to participate in an exclusive breastfeeding schedule, and health practitioners were trained to advise them on nutrition practices.

© UNICEF video
Mothers in Burkina Faso join the programme for nutrition and exclusive breastfeeding to ensure the best possible health for their children.

The results were significant, providing solid evidence of the beneficial effects of exclusive breastfeeding.

“At first the women couldn’t understand why babies should spend six months without drinking water,” said the head of the Koupela Health District, Dr. Isabelle Bicaba. “Finally they realized that breastfeeding was very important for the health and well-being of their children. The breastfeeding programme is now a nationwide strategy.”

Empowering women

The programme works in tandem with other UNICEF-supported projects – including the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and community-based growth monitoring and health promotion efforts – to ensure a continued commitment to breastfeeding and healthy complementary feeding practices for infants and young children.

Balem, one of the participating mothers, has five children under the age of seven. With the programme’s guidance, she has breastfed all of them. Balem says she will continue to breastfeed Fatilam, her three-month-old, and employ age-appropriate complementary feeding for the other children.

The exclusive breastfeeding programme in Burkina Faso has empowered many women like Balem, strengthening the well-being of their families and communities. In the process, their children have gained the chance for a healthier future.




30 July 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Nina Martinek reports on breastfeeding and nutrition programmes in Koupela, Burkina Faso.
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