Marie smiles down as her three month old baby, Hajaboukah, suckles at her breast. Her little daughter was dangerously underweight when she was born and at only 1.5kg, was a third of the size of a healthy newborn. Like any mother, Marie had feared the worst.
The 19-year-old had heard about Action Against Hunger’s health centre in the Chicken Soup Factory area of Monrovia, Liberia, whilst she was pregnant, and went along to receive vaccinations against a number of diseases. So when her little baby was struggling to feed, she knew where to go for help.
The specially trained nurses weighed and measured Hajaboukah and monitored her progress closely. They offered helpful advice as well as gentle support and encouragement for Marie to breastfeed her baby.
Feeding a baby with breast milk exclusively, for at least the first six months of life is essential to ensure they get all the nutrients they need to grow healthy and prevent malnutrition. However, in Liberia many young mothers do not breastfeed their children, for a number of reasons. Sometimes they are not aware of the importance of breastfeeding, sometimes they do not know how to start breastfeeding and sometimes they are struggling to find the time to breastfeed and earn a living.
When this happens, mothers look for an alternative. However, in Liberia most often they cannot afford to buy sufficient formula milk as a replacement. Instead, many young mothers mix small portions of powder milk – however much they can afford – with water. Unfortunately due to poor sanitation infrastructures in Liberia, the water is often dirty and so the baby receives little more than dirty water to drink.
Another dangerous alternative to breastfeeding in Liberia is to buy tins of condensed milk. Without proper refrigeration these go off quickly and attract flies. To disguise the acrid taste, a sugar lump is added and again, dirty water is used to eke out the expensive condensed milk. Both these methods of feeding newborn babies are a nutritional disaster waiting to happen.
Action Against Hunger teams are working with many young mothers, just like Marie, to help them breastfeed. Marie now sings to her baby as she breastfeeds, relaxing her daughter and making sure she feeds well and takes in as much healthy breast milk as possible.
After three months, baby Hajaboukah has put on 1.3kg in weight. She comes to the centre regularly to be weighed and monitored and has received all the vaccinations she needs to protect against disease. There is still a long way to go for Hajaboukah to get to the healthy weight that she needs, however now she is enjoying her mother’s nutritious breast milk every day, she is definitely on the right track.