UN World Food Programme

Encouraging Breastfeeding To Help Improve Nutrition In Somalia

A mother and her child at an MCHN clinic in Somalia. Copyrights: WFP / Martha Artharini

Over 200,000 children in Somalia are malnourished, 50,000 of whom are severely malnourished and face a higher risk of death.  WFP works with Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) clinics throughout the parts of Somalia it has access to in order to address the underlying and basic causes of malnutrition such as poor feeding practices and access to maternal health care.

Puntland: Zamzam Abdi, 26, is a mother of two young children. Zamzam’s first baby was often sick and used to cry through the night, but after learning about better breastfeeding practices, Zamzam has changed the way she feeds her second baby, now seven months old and in good health.

“With this child I can sleep well because he is not sick” she said. “I breast-fed him immediately after birth and have given him no other foods for six months. Even when he is sick I still breastfeed him because now I know it is important.”

This is a sharp contrast to Zamzam’s first experience with motherhood when she fed her baby boiled sugar, water, and butter, which would make him sick. This was due to misconception and lack of awareness that breast milk is a complete meal for an infant.

 “I often took him to the health center, with abdominal cramping, diarrhea and vomiting. I would lose money paying the health center” she recalls.

Malnutrition rates remain persistently high

Due to poor feeding practices, lack of the right kinds of food and limited use and access to health facilities, malnutrition rates remain high in Somalia.  Over 200,000 children under 5-years of age are acutely malnourished, 50,000 of whom are severely malnourished and face a higher risk of death.

In the Bari region, where Zamzam is from, WFP works with Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) clinics, providing nutritious food items to prevent and treat acute malnutrition in breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women and children under five.

Insufficient understanding of a baby’s nutritional needs is common in many parts of Somalia, according to Nicolas Joanic, head of the WFP nutrition programme in Somalia.

“To increase awareness WFP conducts nutritional workshops to over 900 breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women in the Bari region, mainly highlighting the benefits of exclusively breastfeeding young babies, good hygiene at home, and immunization against common childhood illnesses such as TB, Polio, Measles and Tetanus,” he added.

Tackling High Maternal Mortality Rates

Somalia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; one out of every 12 women dies due to pregnancy related causes, according to UNICEF. Unless there are complications during the pregnancy, most women in Somalia prefer to give birth at home, however if complication arises during the birthing process poor roads means emergency medical assistance is out of reach.

“To reduce maternal mortality rates WFP provides a one off food ration for the family as an incentive to encourage pregnant women to deliver their babies at MCHN clinics to ensure healthy deliveries and immediate emergency assistance if needed,” said Joanic.

Zamzam is now an ambassador for better infant and child feeding practices in her village. Her husband also helps her to ensure that she has the right range of food to feed their baby.

Her baby is among thousands of young children across Puntland whose nutritional status is rapidly improving thanks to the Mother and Child Health and Nutrition Clinics that are supported by WFP.

By Faisal Mohamed