Breastfeeding has been called the “ultimate natural vaccine” – it is one important way to ensure that newborns get the nutrition needed for a healthy start to life. The World Health Organization recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their lives to achieve optimal growth and development.
Action Against Hunger’s teams around the world work to teach mothers about the importance of breastfeeding and to encourage support from male partners and fellow mothers. Often, this means confronting misinformation and long-held traditional beliefs about child care and feeding practices.
In Borena, an area of southern Ethiopia, our teams report hearing a variety of misconceptions about breastfeeding, including:
“Newborns should be given water to clean their throats and avoid thirst.”
“Baby boys need to be fed with “Qumbi” [a traditional herbal medicine] to make them brave.”
“When breast milk production is low, newborns should be fed with cow milk.”
When her daughter Shaga was born, 22-year-old Loko Guyo did what was considered normal in her village – she fed her newborn a mix of breastmilk, cow milk, and water.
Then, she joined the “Kayyoo” in her community – a local mother-to-mother support group. Action Against Hunger, with our partners, support 26 of these groups in the area. Along with 14 other pregnant and breastfeeding women, Loko started to learn more about nutrition and the best ways to keep her baby healthy and strong.
“All Kayyoo support group members were older than me. At first, most of the things I learned from the field staff seemed unacceptable to me, and I could not understand why it would benefit my child,” recalls Loko. “Also due to my day-to-day household responsibilities, it was difficult for me to find time to properly feed and take care of my child.”
Women in Borena work long – unpaid – hours collecting firewood, fetching water, and caring for sheep and goats, in addition to cleaning, cooking, and looking after their children and other family members. Workloads between husbands and wives are uneven, which can limit the time a mother has for her children and can have long-term negative health consequences for both children and mothers.
“By being in the mother support group, I learned how to find a way to provide better care for my baby, and I learned the risks if I did not exclusively breastfeed,” says Loko. “During our sessions, I was amazed to hear how little some of the women knew about pregnancy and infants, and it made me laugh and regret what I used to do, too!”
As Loko learned, she shared her knowledge with her neighbors. One woman in her community, for example, was feeding her newborn son with cow milk and sugar water.
“I told her that she was putting her son’s health at risk,” explains Loko. “I am a very sociable person, so I tell people that they are doing things wrong, even if I don’t know them. I feel good in my community. I stopped mixed feeding my baby and my daughter is now a good example of an exclusively breastfed baby.”
"I feel good in my community."
Education for women in Loko’s community is limited, often delivered orally and without practical lessons or demonstrations. In the “Kayyoo,” women have more opportunities to learn about health and childcare from both Action Against Hunger staff and from each other. There are social benefits as well.
“We meet and sit together twice a week,” says Loko. “We became close friends and give encouragement to each other. We also share information and teach our communities what we have learned. I would like to thank the project for creating this opportunity for me and the group.”
Loko’s Kayyoo group is part of the RESET II program, supported by the European Union, led by Action Against Hunger with our partners, CARE and OSHO, in the Borena Zone, Southern Ethiopia.