How Mother-to-Mother support group encourages breastfeeding among rural women in Kajiado, Kenya

Florence Muthoni Gisa is a 24-year-old mother of one. Florence is a resident of Oloserian in Kajiado county. At just six months old her daughter Rael Gisa is a lively, healthy, calm child which sometimes puzzles the nurses and the doctor when taken for her regular clinical checkups. Florence has been exclusively breastfeeding her, following the lessons she had learned from the Mother-to-Mother Support Group established in her area. The mothers meet once a week and sometimes monthly.

The group of mothers is supported by a community health volunteer as well as a child protection volunteer with lessons on health topics such as exclusive breastfeeding, complementary feeding, growth monitoring and positive parenting messages among other lessons.

“I am a happy mother seeing the benefit my child gets from my breastmilk. The Mother to Mother Support program has enabled me to know the importance of breastfeeding. It has also helped me avoid harmful feedung practises that we have upheld for a long time,” she said.

But the experience was different for 28-year-old Loyce Ntagusa, a mother of four, and a beneficiary of Mother- to-Mother support group. When she delivered her first child at home, she had to rely on the lessons taught by the elderly women in her community on how to raise the infant. In the Maasai culture once a woman has given birth, a goat must be slaughtered on her behalf. The woman is then fed the meat and soup which is believed to restore blood loss during delivery. The infant is fed the milk cream immediately after birth and would be introduced to other complementary foods not long after. Loise underwent the same not knowing the effect it would have on her child.

We never embraced exclusive breastfeeding

“Exclusive breastfeeding wasn’t something my culture followed not until just recently, so I had to learn motherhood from the other women in my community which were just how they too were taught. My child was fed the cream which resulted in her having severe stomach ache. I took her to the clinic where I was taught the importance of breastfeeding exclusively for six months. I introduced other complementary diets afterward as she still breastfed for two years. I continued on the same with my other children, with the two younger ones enrolled in the UCB program where I learned more in the Mother-to-Mother support group,” says Loyce.

Globally, nearly two out of three infants are not exclusively breastfed for the recommended 6 months, World Health Organisation (WHO) reports. Exclusive breastfeeding is said to provide all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life. For the mother, it helps in preventing breast cancer and helps financially as there is no need for purchasing food for the child.

Such lessons are what Loyse and Florence are taught in the Mother-to-Mother Support group. A group established by Save the Children Under the universal child benefit (UCB) pilot project underway in two other counties Kisumu and Embu. The project focuses on monthly cash disbursement, nutrition education, and counseling (Positive parenting) as well as disability inclusion. The benefits of the UCB monthly Ksh800 cash transfer go to either pregnant women or lactating mothers with infants aged 0-6 months and 6 months to 2 years.

“Nutrition is multi-faceted so we can’t be talking about nutrition without talking about the issues that affect nutrition security at the household level .so far we are partnering with the trade ministry and agriculture ministry to train them on village saving and loans because once they receive the UCB transfers we will like them to have table banking, income generating activities so that this becomes a long sustainable project. So that once we are done and out of Kajiado there’s continuity in terms of financial security, purchasing power at the household level,” Rose mbuthia assistant nutritionist Kajiado county.

More informed mothers

For 32-year-old Nenkatura one Letasuna mother to 5 children, the lessons learned from the support group in addition to the cash transfer have gone a long way in ensuring her family is well taken care of and she gets fed well so she can continue breastfeeding her youngest child, 15month old Jeremiah Lepapa.

“When I first received the first transfer things were tough since it was drought season and my husband was not around. I reached out to him and he was happy about it telling me to use it to cater to the needs of the children as well as mine. Through the funds I ate well enabling my child to breastfeed as well as eat a complementary diet as advised in the support group,” she says.

The group has helped me improve the well-being of young mothers and their children by making it a community-inclusive initiative targeting not only the mothers but fathers as well,” says Ruth Nasimkoi the county nutrition Coordinator.

“We are now at 61% in the level of breastfeeding in Kajiado and this is due to our baby-friendly initiatives all over the communities which are motivated to support mothers. We target both the mothers and the mother in laws but do not forget the men as we have put them in the father-to-father help group. We teach them how to take care of their expectant woman or those who have just given birth and also how to create a bond with their babies in a bid to resolve the issues reported in the mother’s support group and encourage positive parenting for both parents,” she says.

Male involvement is still a challenge even as they carry out the community-friendly initiative. The male turnout is minimal because of the task of providing for their family. But for 29-year-old Peter Kasane, husband to Loise defying the odds to help her wife out was something he will still do in a heartbeat if need be again.

Ruth Mbuthia assistant nutritionist Save the Children UCB project Kajiado county

“I allowed my wife to attend the sessions since they were beneficial for us and our family. She would come and let me in on the lessons she learned and during her pregnancy and after delivery, I was well informed on how I can help her. Since good nutrition was mandatory I would provide all the essential food to help her produce milk for our children and at the same time just help out even at home to look after the child,” he proudly says.

Some other challenges they face are distance to health facilities, high level of illiteracy, and inadequate staff in rural areas and towns, to help facilitate the lessons. The mothers lack time too to do exclusive breastfeeding as the need to resume back to work intensifies

“ My biggest challenge is that at the time I have to lose a customer when handling the child or even the cattle might eat up the vegetables that I do sell and no one compensates me thus I suffer a loss,” says Florence.

Teen mothers also have a hard time going to school at the same time stick to breastfeeding their young ones while attending school.

“For the teen mothers, they are forced to stay back home and take care of the child for up to 3 months after which they would have fallen behind in catching up with the syllabus.” According to Ruth Mbuthia, guardians and parents could consider relocating to areas closer to the school premises so that the young mothers could continue with their learning and rush home through breaks to breastfeed their infants. Ruth adds that institutions should set various lactating rooms for the mothers coming from maternity leave.

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