By Vidya Kulkarni
Four months old Nisha was the center of attraction for the women’s meeting held in Sarola village. Her mother Vaishali Ubale was quite happy receiving appreciations showered on her healthy and cheerful daughter. Both the mother and the baby seemed well now. But if Vaishali had not received timely support for initiation of early breast feeding, things could have been different. She shared her story with the women.
Vaishali is a resident of Sarola village from Ausa block in Latur district of Maharashtra state. She had her first delivery in March this year. As is common in these parts Vaishali’s delivery took place at home by a trained birth attendant. ‘All went well and baby girl was delivered safe’, Vaishali recalled. ‘The problem started when my mother asked me to breastfeed the baby. I could not lactate and became very nervous. Elder women in the family were suggesting to feed honey or cow’s milk to the new born.’ Vaishali remembered the importance of early breast feeding that she had learnt in women’s meetings in her village. She knew that external feeding would cause infection and breastfeeding was the only correct option. ‘I knew that the very first milk secretions hold medicinal value for the baby. But I was helpless. I couldn’t have starved the baby either,’ Vaishali expressed the dilemma she faced. The timely help from village volunteer Alka Lokhande solved the problem, who assisted the mother in breastfeeding the baby. Vaishali required giving no external feeding at that time or even later. The four months old baby is getting exclusive breastfeeding and seems contented with it.
What Alka Lokhande essentially tried with the mother and the new born are some helpful techniques that she learnt as part of Infant and Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) programme. Alka helped the mother relax and asked her to give her warmth to the baby by holding her close. After a while the mother was able to breast feed the baby.
IYCN, a UNICEF initiated programme, aims to improve awareness on appropriate feeding practices to curb malnutrition. It primarily focuses on the awareness about exclusive breast feeding for the first six- months and introduction of complementary feeding thereafter. In a three-day workshop for the volunteers of various organizations working in Latur, inputs were extended to upgrade their understanding and skills concerning the issue. Alka’s organization, Grameen Janata Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, participated in the workshop and has integrated the knowledge in their field level activities.
Alka’s experience shows that, ‘women generally know the importance of early and exclusive breast feeding, but they have not thoroughly internalized it. Therefore, whenever any problem occurs they fall back upon the conventional feeding practices.’ Information and awareness are important, but they are not enough by themselves to bring in required behavioral change. Through IYCN volunteers like Alka try to change women’s attitudes towards the breast feeding, so that they adopt proper feeding practices. According to Alka, ‘breast feeding is common in rural parts, but women still need to know what the proper ways of feeding are. For instance, mothers do not carefully hold the baby or use both the breasts alternatively while feeding. It is primarily because they do not understand the relevance of proper feeding techniques.’
As the discussion was still on, one elderly woman suddenly stood up and rushed towards the exit door. Alka requested her to hold on and not leave the meeting half way. The woman said, ‘I am going to fetch my daughter-in-law here. She is pregnant and need to know the information you are giving.’ After a while the woman returned with her 6-month old pregnant daughter-in-law, who keenly participated in the further discussion.
Alka uses Self-help-group meetings as a forum to disseminate health related information to women. In today’s meeting Vaishali presented problem she encountered in early breast feeding and how she managed to solve it. Alka interpreted this experience to underline significance of proper breast feeding practices. The message is carried away effectively when a mother herself shares her own experience about the improvement of her child’s health. The women could easily relate to Vaishali’s story, as she was one among them.