Amina, Hajia’s daughter-in-law, is 25 years old and has given birth to four children. Amina’s first three children were not breastfed, a common practice in northern Nigeria where they live. Unfortunately, Amina’s third child died from an unknown illness. Her other two children were frequently sick during their first six months of life.
Before the birth of her fourth grandchild, Hajia was trained by International Medical Corps to be a Community Health Volunteer. In these training sessions, she learned key health messages she could pass on to her community. She learned that optimal breastfeeding practices in the first two years of life can have the single largest impact on child survival of all preventive interventions. She also learned how to screen children for signs of malnutrition and how to refer a mother of a sick and malnourished child to local services.
“My granddaughter is three months old and exclusively breastfeeding. I influenced my daughter and other pregnant or lactating women to exclusively breastfeed their children after I received training on breastfeeding and caring.” She recalls.
Amina says “I didn’t realize why my children were falling sick, until my mother told me to give only breast milk to my new baby right after my delivery. I was hesitant at first, because culturally it was normal to give water right after birth to the baby and throw out the first milk”.
“However grandmothers are well respected culturally, so I did what she told me and she is right! My baby is now three month old and she hadn’t had any illness. She is healthy, happy and a good weight.”
Haija often brings her granddaughter along on home visits to see other pregnant or breastfeeding woman, to show the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding. Haija is a not only a grandmother, she is a community health worker, a grandmother and a First Responder.
Malnutrition continues to be responsible for almost one-half of deaths among child under the age of five according to the Lancet series on maternal and child nutrition published in 2013. Infant mortality could be reduced by as much as 13% with improved breastfeeding practices alone. International Medical Corps promotes exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of life as a component of its nutrition programs.