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A Chadian mother discovers the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding

© UNICEF Chad/2010/Gangale
Fatimé Hassan with her four-month-old baby, Gazala, who is being exclusively breastfed.

By Achta Abderamane Aboubakar

This year's World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 August, highlights the role of health professionals. Here is one in a series of related stories.

SAHELIAN REGION, Chad, 3 August 2010 – Exclusive breastfeeding – one of the best ways to protect an infant’s health – means feeding a baby only with maternal milk, and giving the child no other liquid, from birth to at least six months of age. Breast milk is easy for a baby to digest, fully meets all nutritional needs and protects against illness by transferring a mother’s immunity to her child.

But is exclusive breastfeeding possible in Chad’s Sahelian zone, where temperatures frequently reach 45 degrees Celsius? One mother has decided to take on the challenge for the sake of her baby.

Rooted beliefs

Fatimé Hassan, 28, has four children. Before the birth of her youngest daughter, it was thought that a baby could not survive in the dry region without drinking water or juice. 

“It is very hot where we live, and we drink a lot of water,” said Ms. Hassan. “So I gave my three other children water, juice and water boiled with millet and butter when they were under six months.”

In Chad, only about 2 per cent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed. In April 2009, a UNICEF-supported campaign to promote exclusive breastfeeding began in three health centres in Mao, located in Chad’s Kanem region. Some 95 community volunteers were trained in Mao, 47 in the northern town of Nokou and 45 in the eastern region of Bar-el-Ghazel. 

Around the time of the breastfeeding campaign, Ms. Hassan became pregnant again. Her infant daughter, Gazala, has been breastfed exclusively, and the girl is healthy. “It makes a big difference,” said Ms. Hassan. “She has not been sick since she was born. She has no diarrhoea, no flu.”

Changing attitudes

What convinced Ms. Hassan to change her mind about breastfeeding? She shows a scar on her neck. She had surgery to remove a goiter when she was six months pregnant. She was hospitalized in Ndjamena, the capital of Chad.

“The doctors saved my life,” she recalled. “When they told me to go to the health centre for my pregnancy, I thought they knew what they were saying. When I came back to Mao, I went to the health centre and they explained the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. I did it, and today I have no regret, and I am proud of my little girl.”

Ms. Hassan overcame a lot of pressure from her family and neighbors. “They were saying that my child would die with no water,” she said. “But I held on. Nowadays, Gazala is a living example that I was right, and I show her to other women to convince them.”



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