Stronger with Breastmilk Only

The Government of Niger, UNICEF, Alive and Thrive and partners launched a campaign that aims to promote, protect and support exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life and stop giving water to babies under 6 months

By Lalaina Fatratra Andriamasinoro
Stronger with Breastmilk Only
UNICEF/Pirozzi
27 August 2020

NIAMEY (Niger), 27th August 2020 – Almost half of children under the age of five in Niger are stunted. Children in rural areas suffer disproportionately because they are often cut off from resources and information and are typically far from health centers that support family health. Community health volunteers like Anifa help close the gap.

Community Sensitization
UNICEF/Dejongh
Women groups are made aware of the importance of breastfeeding, in Zengon-Bougage, a village in the region of Maradi, in central Niger

Anifa serves the village of Zengon-Bougage in the region of Maradi, in central Niger. She has a five-month-old boy and is known for her determination in promoting healthy living in the community through her work as a Community health volunteer.

Since the birth of her child, Anifa has been breastfeeding in public and instructing mothers about the nutrition benefits of the practice. Her child is healthy and is growing fast. Others have started to understand the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, either because they have witnessed Anifa’s practice or heard about it through word of mouth, a powerful tool in rural areas.

Often when I talk about proper nutrition for children, mothers still add water or local teas into the child’s diet, which they believe is more satisfying

Anifa, Community health volunteer

Anifa admits it can be difficult to convince mothers about the importance of breastfeeding because of traditional cultural practices. “Often when I talk about proper nutrition for children, mothers still add water or local teas (guitti, baouri…) into the child’s diet, which they believe is more satisfying,” she said.

However, Anifa perseveres and has already begun to see more women exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months. Currently, dozens of women participate in educational sessions she gives and, based on results so far, she knows this trend of sharing with and learning from each other will grow.

Healthiest start in life

Breastfeeding gives all children the healthiest start in life. Breastmilk acts as a baby’s first vaccine, stimulates brain development, and protects a woman’s health. When mothers breastfeed, everyone benefits. Breastfeeding leads to lower health care costs, healthier families, and a smarter workforce. UNICEF and WHO recommend exclusive breastfeeding without any other food for the first six months of life, starting within an hour of birth.

Yet, only 23 per cent of children under six months of age are fed only breastmilk in Niger. More than 4 in 10 babies are not breastfed within the first hour of life, putting them at higher risk of death and disease and making them less likely to continue exclusive breastfeeding. Also, the practice of giving water and other liquids such as local teas to breastfed infants in the first months is widespread in the country. Around 56% of infants are given plain water before 6 months.

No water, other liquids or foods should be given from the moment of birth until they reach six months of life, even in hot and dry climates, as breastmilk contains all the water and nutrients a baby needs to grow well

Dr. Felicite Tchibindat, UNICEF Representative in Niger

"For babies under six months to stay healthy, scientific evidence recommends giving them breastmilk only and on demand. No water, other liquids or foods should be given from the moment of birth until they reach six months of life, even in hot and dry climates, as breastmilk contains all the water and nutrients a baby needs to grow well” explains Dr. Felicite Tchibindat, UNICEF Representative in Niger.

According to studies in low- and middle-income countries, babies who receive liquids and foods in addition to breastmilk before six months of age are at greater risk of diarrhoea and respiratory infections. They are almost three times more at risk of dying than those who are exclusively breastfed.

‘Stronger With Breastmilk Only’ campaign

The Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF, Alive and Thrive and other partners launched today a public awareness campaign, called ‘Stronger With Breastmilk Only’ that aims to ignite breastfeeding policies and social change to stop giving water to babies under 6 months. The Stronger With Breastmilk Only campaign focuses on stopping the practice of giving water to babies younger than six months as an entry point for shifting norms and behaviours towards improved breastfeeding practices.

Official ceremony
UNICEF/Islamane
Official launching of the campaign in Niamey on 27th August 2020
Launching ceremony
UNICEF/Islamane
The ceremony was attended by a wide range of partners

Supported by an intensive media efforts that include public debates, promotional advertising, billboards and bulk-SMS – the campaign aims to catalyse much-needed policy, social, institutional, community and family dialogue and change towards improving breastfeeding rates in the country.

Campaigns like these are critical to creating an environment where mothers feel supported to breastfeed their children

Dr Ranaou Abache, General Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health

“Campaigns like these are critical to creating an environment where mothers feel supported to breastfeed their children. It’s important that mother’s milk maintains its position as the undisputed best for babies, and is fed exclusively in the first six months of life,” says Dr Ranaou Abache, General Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health at the launching ceremony.

A community of celebrities also joined forces and dedicated special songs to support the campaign and help spread the messages across the country.

I hope this will inspire a new generation of mothers to provide their baby with the very best start in life

Safia Aminami alias Safiath, Nigerien singer, rapper and songwriter

Safiath, mother of two and one of the best-known rappers in the country, says she “wanted to provide accurate and positive information about breastfeeding in a way that would capture people’s attention and brighten up their day. If a new mom anywhere in the country can relate and find this song helpful then I have done my job a thousand times over. Hopefully this will inspire a new generation of mothers to provide their baby with the very best start in life.”

In Niger, UNICEF's efforts to prevent child malnutrition and promote young and child feeding practices are financially supported by the Government of Luxembourg  

Safiath

Seven out of every 10 babies in West and Central Africa receive liquids and foods in addition to breastmilk during their first six months of life, contributing to child malnutrition, illnesses and even death. The Stronger With Breastmilk Only multi-year campaign launched by UNICEF and the Alive & Thrive initiative calls on Governments, partners, businesses, communities and families to ensure that mothers get the support they need to give their babies the best start in life.