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Mauritania: making exclusive breastfeeding a priority

© UNICEF/Mauritania/ 2008/Dah Habib
Skilled and practical help is needed to promote adequate feeding practices

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania - Dadda Mint Brahim, 26 years old, could barely find her way in the narrow corridors of Sebeka’s hospital maternity, where dampness and heat amplify the painful screams and moans of women delivering.

Protecting breastfeeding to avert diseases
Covered with a cloth, Dadda carried her son Ely aged fifty days only, who has already had Diarrhea, fever and vomiting since he was put on a milk substitute. Dadda scarcely breastfed her child since his birth as she had little milk. Since birth, Ely was confided to his grandmother and he was not put to the breast until 8 hours later, to face the bitter fact that they had to find alternative feeding, in the absence of his mother’s milk.

Dadda was supported by her family, community and her mother. Dadda’s mother continuously encouraged and backed her up to persevere. With that, Dadda began to see some improvement and she remembered what her mother said “ I was fully fed with plenty of milk, something that I  have to do with my own child thanks to my double efforts”. In addition to maternal milk, Ely received concentrated milk and Dadda exclaimed “because of the soaring prices, I had to give him concentrated milk instead which made him sick, but do I have a choice?” Aissata Amadou, a nutrition assistant, who treated Ely advised Dadda to eat adequately several times a day and to put Ely to the breast exclusively for six months.

Training and supporting health staff to promote breastfeeding
Exclusive breastfeeding is well recommended by health workers who constantly advised mothers on its need and its efficiency. The lack of training, monitoring and of appropriate tools are the main constraints encountered by Dr. Mohamed Ould Moujtabaa, who exclaimed ”even though breastfeeding is strongly recommended, we have neither a special unit, nor do we have a specific program for breastfeeding in our maternity that carries out around 7000 childbirths yearly.”   

Ouley Diop a midwife informed that the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding goes through several continued sensitization campaigns involving health workers, communities and civil society. The rate of exclusive breastfeeding has sharply dropped in Mauritania from 20%  to 11% in the absence of supporting programs and strategies between 2000 and 2006. To curb this trend, Mohamed Ag Bendech, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist in Mauritania, calls for an effective implementation of the Infant and Child Feeding Strategy in association with the Accelerated Child Survival and Development Strategy and its relevant interventions and to extend partnership fostering in order to scale up.

Mobilizing communities to boost child survival
The promotion of exclusive breastfeeding has lately known a new powerful momentum following the first national World Breastfeeding Week celebration. The week celebrations included social mobilization, media coverage, national advocacy and communication for behavioral change aimed at communities.

The promotion of the Baby Friendly Hospitals initiative has well clarified to the public the need to start exclusive breastfeeding an hour after birth and to continue until reaching the age of six months and that remained a key issue at the core of Health programs and a major result to be achieved. Dr. Kane of Health Ministry declared that “We are in the process of restarting with exclusive breastfeeding initiative which is a critical issue for child survival and development”.
In order for this programme to succeed, mothers are more than ever before in need of listening, accurate information, specialized and skilled assistance and in need of suitable support in order to strengthen self awareness, to disseminate the values of help to mothers and to create optimal conditions for an effective support to mothers.  Effectively, this is well the aim of partner’s commitment, especially that of Great Britain’s Department of International Development (DFID) which supports UNICEF and UNICEF Set Aside Funds for the implementation of this strategy.  

The diversified partnership and fundraising are essential to sustain this momentum and to scale up the program. With that, Dadda and many other Mauritanian mothers have some hope now to be able learn how to properly breastfeed and to ensure the survival and development of their children.

Story by Brahim Ould Isselmou



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