The men promoting breastfeeding and improved child nutrition in Kano State
In Gurum community, men and women have a shared responsibility to ensure children receive good nutrition
In 2017, a farmer from Gurum community in Kano State, 28-year-old Umar Tanimu, heard about the infant and young child feeding programme supported by UNICEF to promote good nutrition for Nigerian children. Umar volunteered to be a counsellor and subsequently received training from UNICEF on how men can promote improved child nutrition. Since then, Umar and many other men in the community have taken up a challenge to put an end to child malnutrition.
In Gurum, fathers support groups are being formed as the men in the community adopt new behaviours to ensure children are well-nourished. Umar, who leads one of the groups consisting of 15 members, facilitates a meeting once a month and encourages exclusive breastfeeding at every opportunity. For the new fathers, even though they might not be able to breastfeed their newborns themselves, they are learning how to provide the necessary support to their breastfeeding spouses.
Child malnutrition in Nigeria is at a critical stage - an estimated 2 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition. The exclusive breastfeeding rate is also low and has not improved significantly over the past decade, with only 17 percent of babies being exclusively breastfed during their first six months of life.
Men and women have a shared responsibility to ensure children receive good nutrition. In a community like Gurum, where the majority of the men are farmers, they play an important role in ensuring that pregnant women have access to the right foods. After a child is born, men can also support their spouses as they begin a journey of exclusive breastfeeding and ensuring that as the babies grow beyond 6 months, they are fed properly with adequate quantity and quality of food, and continued breastfeeding.
Using a counselling card with graphic illustrations, Umar, who is expecting to be a father soon, explains the importance of breastfeeding and eating the right food. “Exclusive breastfeeding helps the child grow well and prevents malnutrition. It is also important to support your spouse to cook the right kind of meals for the older children, adding beans, vegetables and other necessary ingredients to their meals.”
Currently, there are three fathers support groups in Gurum community. In the support group, fathers, grandfathers and soon-to-be fathers meet once a month to learn more about good nutrition, ask questions and receive counselling. The fathers support group is a great place for sharing experiences and creating bonds with other fathers taking care of infants and young children.
“I now include eggs, milk and vegetables in my children’s diet so they can be healthy. These meetings have enlightened me and many other men in this community,” says 57-year-old Ishak Nasiru, a farmer from Gurum.
Through the fathers support groups, the men in Gurum are beginning to understand a father’s role in parenting and are sharing the child care responsibility with their spouses. Fathers are becoming key agents in championing good nutrition for every child in their homes and in the community.
To the men who are too busy to make time for their children, Umar says: “Helping your spouse take care of the children is more important than any other work.”