The unfortunate myth that breast milk alone is not enough for a child’s nutritional needs is strongly embedded within Somalian society.
As a result, in a nation where many mothers and children don’t have access to the healthcare and education needed to ensure a healthy pregnancy and infanthood, mothers often supplement breast milk with infant formula or animal’s milk immediately after birth—inadvertently increasing the chance of their babies falling ill.
Newborn babies are particularly vulnerable to disease and infection while their immune systems are still developing. Breast milk is the natural counterbalance—safe nutrition containing all the antibodies needed to fight off potential infections. This is why mothers all over the world are encouraged to provide only breast milk to their babies for the first six months after birth, then to continue breastfeeding for an additional two years while providing other nutritious foods. Research has shown that babies who are introduced to breast milk alternatives are more likely to struggle with diseases and malnutrition than breastfed children.
As part of World Breastfeeding Week—a week dedicated to raising awareness of the numerous health benefits of breastfeeding—International Medical Corps conducted a campaign at Ibado Hospital and in the surrounding village of Abduwak in the Galmuduug region of Somalia to promote breastfeeding. More than 200 women and men attended the event, where the International Medical Corps team emphasized the importance of giving birth at a hospital where skilled professionals are present, initiating breastfeeding within one hour of birth and providing only breast milk during the first six months of a baby’s life.
Fatuma, a mother of two, kindly shared her breastfeeding story with us, having seen the transformative impact of exclusive breastfeeding on her young children: “I encourage every mother to take the breastfeeding messages seriously. I did not breastfeed my first-born well because I introduced him to substitute milk before he was a month old. I, however, took the breastfeeding messages seriously with my second-born, and breastfed him well. The difference is quite notable on the two children. The one I didn’t breastfeed fell ill often and was malnourished, while the one I breastfed grew up strong and healthy.”
During the campaign at Ibado hospital, an International Medical Corps Health and Nutrition Team also visited new mothers in the maternity wards to promote breastfeeding. While at the maternity ward, one of the team members witnessed a mother who had delivered the previous night having difficulty in positioning and breastfeeding her newborn. The team member was able to support the mother and show her how to position the child while breastfeeding—a small change with big health consequences for her child.
These types of small interventions with long-lasting consequences are typical of the work we are carrying out in five regions across Somalia, where we promote health and hygiene practices that have a transformative effect at both an individual and communal level.