Suraya is sharing her knowledge about breastfeeding with mothers in South Sudan
Every Monday and Friday Suraya Hatam walks to Al Sabbah Children’s Hospital in Juba. With her one-year-old son, Husni, strapped to her back, the walk takes her one hour each way. The heat is stifling, and as she walks she regularly swats flies from her face, but her stride is determined.
Suraya is part of a mother-to-mother support group that gathers at the hospital. There, the moms discuss everything from breastfeeding to nutrition. They’re also given important information about their children’s changing needs.
Thirty-two-year-old Suraya was not always a proponent of exclusive breastfeeding. She has two older children, aged 3 and 4-and-a-half years, who she did not exclusively breastfeed. She says back then she did not know about the full benefits of breastmilk.
But when she was pregnant with her third child, she attended pre-natal classes and was given a UNICEF booklet about optimal care for babies. In it, she read that breastmilk is a complete nutritious food source for infants. She made the decision to exclusively breastfeed Husni, and did so until he was six months old. After that she continued breastfeeding and added complementary food.
Husni is now a happy, healthy toddler, aged one year-and two months.
Suraya says she can see the difference between her older children and Husni, as the toddler does not often fall ill. “The rate at which Husni is growing pleases the nurses,” Suraya says with a smile.
“I want to continue breastfeeding him until he is two, because I want him to be intelligent and healthy.”
South Sudan’s exclusive breastfeeding rate has increased from 45 per cent in 2010 to 74 per cent in 2018. This increase is largely due to the development of the Maternal Infant and Young Child Nutrition (MIYCN) Guidelines and Strategy by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of South Sudan, which was supported by UNICEF. It is also attributed to the training of healthcare providers in appropriate feeding for infants and young children, which was also supported by UNICEF.
However, Suraya, who sells nuts from her home to help supplement her husband’s income, says there are many reasons women in South Sudan do not exclusively breastfeed their babies, the main being that women often don’t have sufficient food for themselves to ensure they produce a steady supply of breastmilk, so they opt to go out and work instead, to earn an income and support their children.