Encouraging positive child feeding practices in Sudan
How a community of women in Mahas Kutrang, Sudan became an example for good family practices
It was rainy season in Sudan and the roads were tricky to navigate as our team from UNICEF Sudan made their way towards Mahas Kutrang, located about an hour’s drive outside the centre of Khartoum. The entrance to the community was a picturesque winding road lined with dense trees. The sun was hiding behind a cloudy sky, with brief and sporadic spurts of refreshing rain.
Alongside the Ministry of Health, we were on our way to meet with some of the women from the UNICEF-supported Mother Support Group in Khartoum state. These vital groups in Sudan, empower mothers and families by equipping them with the support and knowledge to live a healthy and happy life.
As we entered the community, we were met with the warm welcome Sudanese people are known for. The modest houses next to each other had a typical spacious housh (outdoor space where families usually gather to spend time, share stories and meals) where the sound of the neighbourhood children playing together continued throughout the day. Play is an essential part of helping build a child’s brain and imagination.
UNICEF, alongside the Ministry of Health is training community volunteers across the country to provide counselling and supporting activities to further progress Infant and Young Child Feeding Practices (IYCF).
Between January to June 2019, UNICEF supported the provision of nutrition education and counselling to 240,326 mothers and caregivers through health facilities, and 157,020 mothers and caregivers through community-based Mother Support Groups.
Our visit to Mahas Kutrang coincided with this year’s Global Breastfeeding Week under the theme for 2019 of Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding. The main objective is to emphasise the critical importance of exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a child’s life and continued breastfeeding during the first two years. This is in addition to encouraging family-friendly policies such as quality healthcare and adequate maternity leave.
After a chat with the members of the Mother Support Group, we visited first-time mother Fatma Lukman Mekki and her baby daughter Daniya in their home a short walk nearby.
“I learned exclusive breastfeeding and positioning of the child is very important, as well as the affection between mother and baby. I will continue to raise awareness to others in my community,” said Fatma. “I also learned to not give my baby water when she is born and every time there is new information we meet.”
When she delivered Daniya, Fatma told us she had a home delivery with a skilled midwife present.
“As a first-time mother I feel very happy. Having the Mother Support Group is really important. Zeinab, the leader of the group does many home visits,” said Fatma.
The Mother Support Group was established here three years ago and they community has seen a substantial and steady impact, according to Zeinab Mohammed Ahmed the head of the Mother Support Group at the locality, and the nutrition councilor at the Mahas Kutrang Health Centre.
Some of the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding include protecting babies from infection, obesity, asthma and heart disease, while protecting mothers from cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Zeinab has an air of generosity and friendliness about her, and her passion to make sure the women and families understand and implement good family practices is evident, especially in the way she interacts with each and every one of them.
“We have at least 16 members and we meet weekly and whenever I receive new information that I need to relay to the rest of the women,” said Zeinab. “Since we started, one of biggest changes we saw was that babies were no longer receiving water straight after birth because exclusive breastfeeding is best for them.”
The men she said, are also more supportive as the information reaches them too.
“I have five children, and my eldest son is the one I gave water to at birth because I didn’t know it was wrong. So now he is the one who is often sick, in comparison to his siblings who I exclusively breastfed,” she said.
Zeinab’s kindness was extended to our team as she insisted we could not leave before we shared a meal with them in the house, chatting and watching the children playing.