Syria

Helping mothers follow optimal infant and young child feeding practices

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UNICEF-supported health centres offer individual counselling and group awareness-raising sessions

By Sandra Awad and Lina Alqassab

Damascus, Syria, August 2021 – One of the earliest bonds formed between a mother and her baby is the one created through breastfeeding. While an infant relies on this practice to survive, it is not always an easy task for the mother to fulfil, especially when inaccurate information and common habits can influence her attempts to adopt the best feeding decisions for the baby.

To support pregnant and lactating women during such a significant phase in their life and that of their children, UNICEF-supported health centres offer individual counselling and group awareness-raising sessions on optimal infant and young child feeding practices. Mrs. Lina Mustafa is responsible for the programme at Al-Marabani health centre in Damascus. Her office is open to any woman seeking child feeding advice. The centre holds group awareness sessions three times a week. A mobile team also regularly goes from the centre to remote neighbourhoods, in the city, offering door-to-door counselling and awareness sessions.

With thanks to a generous funding from Kuwait, this year, UNICEF has reached 22,200 women with guidance on Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) through 40 fixed health centres and 38 mobile teams in Damascus.

Lubana and her son, Jaber, 8 months, while receiving individual counselling on infant and young child feeding practices at Al-Marabani UNICEF-supported health centre in Damascus, Syria.

“When he was four months, he suffered from digestive issues. I approached the centre for help and discovered that I did wrong by introducing fruit to him at an early age,” says Lubana. “Then, as advised, I moved to exclusive breastfeeding until he became six months old and that’s when I started introducing other types of food.”

Bushra and her son, Abdullah, 5 months, attend an awareness session on infant and young child feeding practices at Al-Marabani UNICEF-supported health centre in Damascus, Syria.

“I introduced water and soft food to my baby before he reached the age of six months based on a neighbour’s advice,” she says. “But after attending the awareness sessions here, I stopped this unsound practice and went back to exclusive breastfeeding.”

Tahani, 1, with her mother, Rama, while attending an awareness session on infant and young child feeding practices at Al-Marabani UNICEF-supported health centre in Damascus, Syria.

“Whenever I come here to vaccinate my daughter or check on her growth, I like to attend awareness sessions, if there are any, to refresh my knowledge about how to best care for Tahani’s wellbeing,” says Rama. “I still breastfeed her as I totally understand how important it is to strengthen her immune system.”

“Because babies can’t express their hunger, some mothers doubt that breast milk is enough during the first six months of a child’s life,” says Lina, a health worker at Al-Marabani UNICEF-supported health centre in Damascus, Syria. “With the harsh economic conditions, more women are now willing to rely on breastfeeding. My job is to raise their trust in breast milk and awareness about the importance of being patient while trying to breastfeed.”

Hanadi, a mother of four, during a counselling session on infant and young child feeding practices at Al-Marabani UNICEF-support health centre in Damascus, Syria.

“After attending the sessions here, breastfeeding became a very special and enjoyable experience for me. I even turn off my phone and the TV every time I start breastfeeding to fully indulge in the moment with my baby and give him my undivided attention.”

“I help mothers to start enjoying breastfeeding,” adds Lina, while conducting an awareness session on infant and young child feeding practices.