Building parent confidence to feed children well

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© UNICEF Myanmar

Learning about nutrition

Alessia Radice

High up in the Thangmual Hills in north-western Myanmar’s Chin State, Nu Lun dreams of her seven-month-old daughter growing up to be strong and clever. Like most mothers, Nu Lun wants the best for her child, but she is unsure about the right way to feed her little one.

Nu Lun lives in a wooden cabin with her baby daughter, husband, mother-in-law and 12-year-old nephew. She buys rice and oil from the market, but most of the family’s food comes from their home garden and farm where her husband works.

To learn about nutrition, Nun Lun attends the local women’s group run by the auxiliary midwife in Tedim. Her mother-in-law also influences her, telling her the things her baby should and should not eat and how to prepare the food.

Nu Lun’s daughter often refuses to eat new foods, struggling with the textures and unable to swallow them. So Nu Lun finds herself reverting to giving her baby girl just breast milk and rice soup.

“They tell us about the extra foods we should give our baby, but my daughter spits them out. They are too coarse for her, so I just give her rice soup and breast,” explains Nu Lun while cooking traditional Chin corn soup for the rest of the family.

Other mothers are apparently also confused about what supplementary foods they should give their babies at what ages. Struggling to understand the food charts, they worry about their children choking.

“Is it three food groups or four we need to give them? Ah no!” exclaims Nu Lun, “I am mixed up. Meat makes you grow and corn makes you strong, but how can our babies eat these?”

In partnership with Save the Children and funded by the Shenzhen Health Foundation, UNICEF is working with mothers and caregivers in Chin State and peri-urban Yangon to understand the needs of mothers feeding babies. The goal is to identify ways to encourage and support mothers towards healthy complementary feeding of babies.

Mothers in Tedim together with UNICEF have created and are piloting a “banana bag” of props with information to help and inspire mothers to feed their children well. The bag’s key message is: Please feed your children every day. Not only rice, but also beans, eggs and vegetables.

The banana bag opens up into a mat, promoting hygienic eating environments. Inside is a pack of novelty tools designed to give mothers confidence to plan and diversify their babies’ meals, and successfully introduce new foods.

Bean canisters help measure quantities; an egg box enables mothers to keep track of how many eggs are eaten each week; a set of mashing tools ensures that food texture is appropriate for the baby’s age; and three different bowls guide age-appropriate portions. As a reminder to practice good hygiene, the bag also contains soap, a baby towel and a toothbrush. A puppet and a storybook promote early stimulation, responsive caregiving and reinforce the key message.

“These good quality things help our babies. Even if we had the money, we couldn’t buy such fine things,” says Nu Lun enthusiastically. “It is good to have something special for the baby.”

The banana bags have proved popular and helpful among mothers like Nu Lun.

Over the next six months, UNICEF will continue to monitor usage of the ‘banana bags’ to learn more about how mothers are responding to and using these innovative tools designed to improve complementary feeding and give children a great start to life.