Engaging fathers to promote exclusive breastfeeding of children up to 6 months
UNICEF works with partners, communities and parents to promote the nutritional and life saving benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for children up to 6 months of age
Yambio County, South Sudan – “In the last few years I have been involving many of my friends and neighbours to encourage and support their spouses for proper feeding practices of their children,” says Michael Edward, a 38-year-old father of six in Yambio County.
“And I think that it has helped in the house because there are fewer children suffering from malnutrition in our community,” he says with a smile.
Michael is an exception but also a role model in his community. He has been a “breastfeeding champion” for five years – and he complains that many males are not eager to sign up for that important role.
“All of my six children were exclusively breastfed for 6 months and I know from experience that it is good for the child, the mother and the family, and that is what I tell my fellow men.”
South Sudan has one of the highest under-5 mortality rates in the world with 1 child out of every 10 dying before their 5th birthday. Many of these children die from easily preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, malaria and acute respiratory infections like pneumonia.
Malnutrition is an underlying factor in many of these deaths as it increases complications and the risk of children dying from these illnesses which are easily preventable.
Malnutrition is complicated and is not only caused by the lack of food. The quality and the diversity in the diet that children require to stay nourished and healthy matter.
“Many mothers in South Sudan are not aware that they can actually prepare nutritious meals with locally available foodstuffs – and the mother-to-mother support groups are trained to teach this to the women in their community,” says David Kazima, a staff member of World Vision, one of UNICEF’s 38 partner NGOs working on the nutrition programme.
“When mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding for their children until they turn 6-months and after that with timely and proper feeding practices and continued breastfeeding up to 2 years, that child has less chance of getting malnourished,” says David.
In South Sudan, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, and nutrition partners are trying to shift the focus from treatment alone to link prevention to treatment and are promoting exclusive breastfeeding of infants for up to six months as a good practice which protects infants and provides them with their first “immunization” against common childhood illnesses.
Current data suggests that only 7 out of 10 children (68 per cent) are being exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their life, and therefore get the best start in life.
The nutrition programme promotes breastfeeding as one of the key actions in its battle against malnutrition in South Sudan because it is safe, simple and has benefits for the mother, the child, the family and the community.
Promoting breastfeeding is even more important because South Sudan is continually battered by recurrent humanitarian disasters which contribute to the worsening nutrition crisis among children, resulting in more than 300,000 expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year.
Fortunately, severe acute malnutrition can be treated.
In South Sudan, UNICEF works closely with the Ministry of Health and NGOs to deliver nutrition services to treat and prevent malnutrition among children and women. These include other services, medicines, and therapeutic foods through 1,145 outpatient therapeutic centres within health facilities and communities, and 88 Nutrition Stabilization Centres which admit children with medical complications with doctors who can also provide medical services.
At the community level, it is the individual mothers and nutrition volunteers who take the first step to prevent and treat malnutrition – by ensuring that every mother and caregiver is aware of the ill effects of malnutrition and the simple and safe practices that will go a long way to protect and nourish their loved ones.
In the community of Bazungua, Natalina Mathew, a member of a mother-to-mother support group converses with Veronica Augustine about the health of her child.
“My child is healthy and I know that breastmilk has been the medicine that has kept my son healthy up to now,” says Veronica. “And I will continue to breastfeed him until he turns two.”
In the run up to World Breastfeeding Week, the Ministry of Health and UNICEF are working with all partners, mothers, fathers and policymakers to promote exclusive breastfeeding of children up to six months, and continued breastfeeding until the child turns two.
UNICEF thanks donors such as the European Union, European Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), UK Aid, USAID, Government of Germany through KfW Development Bank, and the Government of Canada for their support to the nutrition programme in South Sudan.