UNICEF supports proper infant and child feeding practices
UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Public Health and partners across Lebanon to ensure every pregnant and lactating woman and every child gets the nutrition they need from birth
Today’s complex and multiple crises have left communities in Lebanon prone to food insecurity and malnutrition. Proper infant and young child feeding practices have long lasting healthy outcomes on a child’s life and growth, preventing against malnutrition, various childhood illnesses as well as newborn deaths, and it starts from day one.
UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and partners across the country to ensure every pregnant and lactating woman and every child gets the nutrition they need from birth. In 2021, UNICEF reached 536,548 mothers and caregivers with healthy nutrition services, practices and supplies.
UNICEF works closely to support the national infant and young child feeding (IYCF) programme. In collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and coordination with local partners, including ACF, the IOCC, and other NGOs and international NGOs, nutrition and lactation specialist teams are focused on reducing the risk of malnutrition amongst Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities.
A nationwide awareness campaign on infant and young child feeding continues in support of joint efforts with the MoPH to keep malnutrition at bay. The campaign has reached an audience of more than 4.2 million on social media channels alone, and awareness is further boosted through direct collaboration with Lebanon’s municipalities.
As a result of the National efforts around IYCF, more than 220,000 parents and caregivers had been involved in awareness sessions. A national hotline has also been established and offers support and advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
More than 90 lactation specialists are delivering advice to women during their pregnancies, immediately after birth, and continuing with ongoing post-natal support. More than 43,000 pregnant and lactating women have been counselled on infant and young child feeding. Furthermore, an IYCF hotline has been established where infant and young child feeding specialists await calls from anxious parents and offer immediate advice and proper follow up.
In a further vital intervention, UNICEF, with local partners, supports the hosting of a series of IYCF workshops. In addition to providing nutrition information from birth, caregivers are given further advice on adequate diet diversity for children aged from 6 months up to 2 years old.
Karima is one of many mothers benefiting from the programme’s support. The mother of two explains how she placed little importance on breastfeeding her children. However, currently, almost nine months pregnant and empowered by her newly gained knowledge, she’s excited at the prospect of breastfeeding her third.
“It will create a beautiful link between my baby and me,” she says, “and that’s aside from the benefit of my milk giving him a strong natural immunity against many common diseases.”
Siham’s baby, Hamza, is two weeks old when she receives a home visit from UNICEF partner ACF (Action Against Hunger). With a birth weight of just 1.7kg, his mother has experienced difficulties during breastfeeding. She is one of several mothers receiving support from ACF infant and young child feeding specialist Yolla – a nurse and midwife with over 20 years of experience.
“Only now am I learning a new way to help my son”
“Hamza’s first days were very difficult for both of us,” his mother explains, “only now am I learning a new way to help my son.”
Proper IYCF practices are being implemented, allowing Siham to increase her milk flow – she is determined to feed him exclusively breastmilk, and, together with Yolla, they are making good progress. “I’ve learned a lot about the nutrition my baby needs, and importantly learned how best to hold him during feeds. When we’re both relaxed, everything works much better,” she smiles.
Jinane has regularly breastfed her babies. However, she recalls, “I did this because everyone told me it was the right thing to do.
“Over the past weeks, though, I’ve learned the real reasons for the importance of breastfeeding for at least the first six months of a child’s life,” she notes. “I’ve learned it can help protect both mother and baby from many illnesses, and also helps create a close bond between us – reducing the likelihood of suffering from the ‘baby blues’.”
Jinane continues: “We usually refer to our mothers and how they brought us up,” reflecting on the significance of social and cultural change. “But there’s an important difference between how we were brought up and how we need to bring up our children,” she says.
As the people of Lebanon continue to struggle to support themselves and, critically, to feed their children, UNICEF – in collaboration with partners and the MoPH – is working to ensure that the country’s babies receive the best start to life.