Mentors to boost breastfeeding

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SAN, 23 October 2009 (IRIN) - Have you checked in with your breastfeeding support group? If you were a woman who gave birth in one of Mali’s 48 “baby-friendly hospitals”, you should have been assigned to one that checked up on you – often as soon as minutes after the delivery.

In San village, 380km north of the capital Bamako, dozens of mothers in 2005 formed the “Good Mothers” group – known in the local language as Denbanyuma –to tell new mothers about the all-milk rule; 660 mothers across the country are trained to do the same as part of a government child survival programme adopted in 2007, according to the Health Ministry.

“Before, women fed their newborns tea and water without knowing the consequences of this practice,” San mothers’ group leader Aïssa Tangara Traoré told IRIN. The UN has estimated that 300,000 babies could be saved every year in West Africa if they were fed only mother’s milk for the first six months rather than formula, tea, water or food as is generally the case.

Exclusive breastfeeding has been proven to boost a newborn’s defences against malnutrition and infections, yet according to the UN only 20 percent of mothers in West Africa and Central Africa report practicing it. Mali’s Sahelian neighbours have among the lowest numbers: 6 percent in Burkina Faso, 4 percent in Niger.

In a 2006 Mali government survey, 38 percent of women said they breastfed exclusively. The Health Ministry is conducting a new nutrition survey to be completed in 2010.

To date 48 maternity centres in Mali have been accredited – and 26 are in the review process – as baby-friendly hospitals, which is a UNICEF initiative  launched in 1991 to encourage breastfeeding. One of the requirements for accreditation is to form breastfeeding support groups.

“As soon as the baby is washed, we ask the mother to start breastfeeding,” San mothers’ group member Oumou Dembélé, 35 and mother of four, told IRIN. “We visit the mothers every day until they leave the maternity ward.” She added that one Sunday of each month, the Good Mothers group organizes a talk at the San health centre to help convince mothers. “We still have the grandmothers who demand their daughters give babies tea or water,” said Dembélé.


Still perspiring from childbirth at the commune five health centre in Bamako, Diaminatou Cissé rested under her mosquito net with her newborn at her chest. She told IRIN the baby girl would not be fed the same things her older brother was. “My grandmother gave him cow’s milk and tap water. She is no longer alive, but my mother shares her views.” She said she has learned from the centre’s mother mentors that there is already water in milk.

The centre’s midwife, Djeneba Samaké, told IRIN that at baptisms a mothers’ support group talks about breastfeeding. She said economics helps promote breastfeeding: mother’s milk is free. “But even the richest women here who consider powdered milk as a status symbol and sign of progress are now choosing to breastfeed exclusively.”

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