Exclusive Breastfeeding: Women Helping Women in Mali

Speeches Shim

Monday, August 1, 2022
Mahimouna Sanou is a resident of the village of Barila in the Yanfolila health area of Sikasso Region.
Adama Sidibe

Mahimouna Sanou is 27 years old and a mother of three. Like most women in Barila village, she did not exclusively breastfeed her children for the first six months. She and other women in her village believed that newborns need water to drink and preventative medicine for minor complaints: “Infants absolutely need water to drink in order not to die. They also need herbal infusions for the treatment of minor stomach aches and other illnesses,” she said. Due to her preconceptions, Mahimouna was afraid that exclusive breastfeeding would leave her baby malnourished and was not yet ready to adopt new practices.

According to the results of the latest Demographic and Health Survey in Mali (EDSM-VI), the malnutrition rate in the Sikasso region is very high – 32% in children aged 6 to 59 months. Sikasso has some of the highest malnutrition rates in the country despite being an area rich in agriculture. Due to widespread malnutrition in Sikasso and elsewhere in Mali, the government is mobilizing community members to better detect and prevent malnutrition by establishing village nutrition support groups (GSAN).

USAID Keneya Nieta works with GSANs to help households improve their health practices and to better position communities to lead their own development. In the village of Barila, the GSAN is actively working to increase awareness of the benefits of antenatal care, delivery in health facilities, early and exclusive breastfeeding, and complementary feeding.

During a recent pregnancy, Mahimouna learned more about the benefits of breastfeeding from volunteer members of the GSAN during their visits to her home. “After receiving answers to all my questions, I committed to exclusively breastfeed my next baby. Beginning from my delivery and through my child’s first six months, the GSAN members visited me at least once a week to provide support with exclusive breastfeeding,” she says.

Based on advice she received from her peers and Barila’s community health worker, Mahimouna completed six months of exclusive breastfeeding and began to prepare enriched porridge for her child. “Exclusive breastfeeding was really beneficial for my child because he didn't have any major health problems and grew well compared to my other children,” she says. Now, Mahimouna is sharing her experience with others and is an advocate in the village for the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding followed by complementary feeding with enriched porridge.

USAID Keneya Nieta, implemented by University Research Co. LLC, strengthens Mali’s community health system, and improves maternal, newborn, and child health in the regions of Mopti, Sikasso, and Ségou. Keneya Nieta works with 3,855 GSANs to improve the feeding of infants and young children.

Last updated: August 25, 2022

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