Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Better breastfeeding: a solution to malnutrition

Sonya gives breastfeeding advice to a new mother. ©UNICEF Indonesia/2015/Harriet Torlesse

Kupang District is the front line of a malnutrition crisis currently affecting NTT Province, Indonesia.

Thirty-two year old Sonya Timuli works each and every day on this front line. She has been a cadre (community health volunteer) in a small village here for the past seven years.

Local cadres like Sonya see countless children suffering from malnutrition. A recent survey conducted by UNICEF and Action Contre La Faim (ACF) found that 21 percent of the children in this area had acute malnutrition (too thin for their height) and 52 percent were stunted (too short for their age).

To address this, Sonya provides various nutrition services to children and mothers in her village. One of the most important parts of her job is advising and counseling new mothers on good breastfeeding practices.

Breastfeeding is the foundation of a child’s nutrition — it protects an infant against disease and helps them develop to their full potential. As such, new mothers are urged to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and then breastfeed with complementary food until their child is at least two years old.

“Many mothers know that they should exclusively breastfeed for six months, but most introduce other foods when the child is four or five months old,” Sonya says. “Some mothers think that breastmilk alone is not enough to support the growth of the baby. Some mothers are pressured by other family members to give them food.”

Sonya has first-hand experience of such misinformation and misunderstanding. For her first child, she exclusively breastfed for only one month and stopped breastfeeding altogether at 11 months. But for her latest child, she exclusively breastfed for six months and continued to breastfeed for three years.

Sonya says that she noticed a marked difference in the development of the two children. “My firstborn son was often slow and forgot things easily. But my youngest daughter is different. She is learning fast, she remembers things so well.”

Stories like this are not uncommon in the region. Poor nutrition in early life causes poor cognitive development — in later life, these children are at risk of doing less well at school and being less productive as adults.

UNICEF and ACF are currently facilitating a training programme for Sonya and other cadres in the area. This training advances their knowledge, skills and competencies on breastfeeding and complementary feeding so that they are better able to support new mothers to feed their infants in the best possible way.

This initiative is part of a larger UNICEF programme to support the Government in preventing and treating malnutrition across Indonesia.