Breastfeeding promotion improves outcomes for youngest palestinians

In the State of Palestine, most women view breastfeeding as beneficial. Initially, 96 per cent of them exclusively breastfeed their infants at birth

UINCEF SOP/ Ahed Izhiman
02 October 2015

Jenin, 2 October 2015 - Rasha Mansour, 35, is a breastfeeding ambassador. A mother of four, including twins, she recently gave birth to a little boy in the maternity ward of Jenin Hospital, in the northern West Bank. Not only is she breastfeeding her child, but she is encouraging other mothers to do the same.

““I choose breastfeeding no matter the condition or situation,”” Rasha says. “I advised other mothers to try several times to breastfeed their babies, and not to give up, even if they’re experiencing difficulties. I told one mother not to send her new-born child to the nursery to be fed with formula, but to try and extract her milk. I told her that she can pump her milk, and give it to the child if she isn’t able to breastfeed him directly.”

Rasha had heard about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding-- protecting her child from disease, staving off cancer, aiding with labour recovery, and strengthening the maternal bond -- from her own mother and programmes on TV. The hospital staff, trained by UNICEF, showed her how to hold her baby to feed him after her caesarean birth, and encouraged her to continue.

Culturally accepted 

In the State of Palestine, most women view breastfeeding as beneficial.  Initially, 96 per cent of them exclusively breastfeed their infants at birth. However over the six following months, the rate dwindles, with only 40 per cent of exclusively breastfed by the time they reach the age of six months (36 per cent in Gaza and 41 per cent in the West Bank). Infants are given formula, sugar water or even herbal tea, instead of the beneficial maternal milk. Some mothers are discouraged by discomfort, physical impediments or difficulties having the baby breastfeed correctly.

To try to stop this quick slide away from the life-saving benefits of breast milk, UNICEF has set out to boost women’s knowledge on breastfeeding in hospitals across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and Gaza.

“We have started to promote skin-to-skin contact in the labour room, where mothers are encouraged to breastfeed their baby immediately after the birth, even before being moved to the postnatal rooms,” says Maher Hushyeh , a Coordinator of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative Coordinator at Jenin Hospital.

“We have designated areas in the neonate ward where new mothers can breastfeed,  as well as spaces for mothers who may visit the hospital, bringing their babies with them. Every mother can find a space for breastfeeding”, he adds.

“Thanks to support from the Swiss National Committee for UNICEF, and the Government of Iceland, 20 hospitals and 30 maternal and child health centres are now participating in the Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative across the State of Palestine”, says Anne-Claire Dufay, UNICEF State of Palestine Deputy Special Representative. An additional 576 community health staff members have been trained in promoting exclusive breastfeeding in primary health care facilities.

On the rise

The programme is already a success. The Hospital of Jenin was the first Palestinian facility to be certified “Baby-Friendly.” Exclusive breastfeeding has risen from less than 30 per cent to 69 per cent in hospitals implementing the initiative, and a new law passed by the Palestinian Authority regulates the marketing and promotion of breast milk substitutes, banning their promotion in public hospitals and clinics.

“Now we need to ensure that postnatal care services complement our work so that mothers continue to breastfeed after leaving the maternity ward,” says Ra’eda Frehat, the Head Nurse at Jenin Hospital’s maternity ward.

“This programme will help give the best start in life to the new generations of Palestinian children,” adds Dufay.