It takes a village

August 12, 2015
Written by Eve Heyn
Photo by Kieran McConville

Concern’s Innovations for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health initiative is using creative new approaches to help to spread the word about the importance of breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding yields countless benefits for both mother and child. It provides children with a perfect balance of nutrients and antibodies for optimal growth and development.

Concern’s Innovations for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health initiative has been working to educate families in Ghana and Sierra Leone about the importance of breastfeeding. In rural Ghana, our Community Benefits Health program targets not just pregnant women and new mothers, but also the influential people in their lives. This means reaching their husbands, mothers-in-laws, even village chiefs. The program encourages women to start breastfeeding as soon as their baby is born, and to continue breastfeeding exclusively for at least the next six months.

What’s unique about this approach is that the entire community rallies behind women, encouraging and supporting new mothers to breastfeed.

To reach everyone throughout the village, community members have created colorful ways to convey the importance of breastfeeding and other essential practices to keep babies and pregnant mothers healthy. These include performances, air spots on the radio, design posters, and door-to-door visits from peer educators. Through this outreach, a grandmother might learn, for example, how giving newborns water can be dangerous, and advise her daughter to exclusively breastfeed to protect her new grandchild.

In addition, men attend regular meetings where they learn about healthy pregnancy, childbirth and the significance of breastfeeding.

Home visit by community health worker

Community health promoters go door-to-door sharing health messages, involving not only mothers but also male partners and older relatives.

What’s unique about this approach is that the entire community rallies behind women, encouraging and supporting new mothers to breastfeed.

“The CBH project motivates commitment and behavior change among the whole community,” said Delabright Gle, Senior Program Manager for the CBH project, part of Concern Worldwide’s Innovations for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health initiative. “Men, women, and key decision makers in a woman’s life will understand and commit to prioritizing and supporting good maternal, newborn and child health care, including breastfeeding.”

In Sierra Leone, which has one of the highest death rates in the world for pregnant mothers and newborns, breastfeeding is a key part of our Essential Newborn Care Corps.

Picture card demonstrating breastfeeding.

Picture cards were developed using local artists to educate illiterate health promoters as well as the families they serve.

In this program, Traditional Birth Attendants, who used to deliver babies at home, now visit new mothers and pregnant women to advise them to seek care and give birth at health centers and to teach them about health, nutrition, and breastfeeding. The traditional birth attendants use song, dance and pictorial cards developed for this largely illiterate population.

Because these former birth attendants are deeply respected by their communities, the women take the advice to heart to keep their babies healthy.