In Chad, traditional beliefs around breastfeeding are strong and inked deep
Growing up in Chad – a landlocked country of the Sahel belt – is not easy. Malaria, Diarrhea and other diseases play a huge role in child mortality rate but so does traditional belief.
Yet, Harun Modogo is one of these local heroes that you would not expect to meet in such a challenging context. This Thursday morning, dozens of women arrived at Darasna’s health center with their children, some have walked more than 12 km to attend his session on the advantage of exclusive breastfeeding.
Harun is 42 years old and has been a committed community worker for almost 4 years. « I leave my children very early in the morning to come to work at the health center. What I do is important, I help people and I go home proud. » Harun raises awareness on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in his community, fighting against old habits. In Chad, only 3% of women practice exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.
« In Darasna there is no woman who is exclusively breastfeeding her child, because the first thing to do when the child is born is to wash the child and there he is given water directly. Even if the mother wanted to do exclusive breastfeeding, if she leaves her child for one minute with her relatives, they will give him water. If the child cries, people will automatically give water. In our region, it’s rare to have access to safe drinking water. This why our children get sick most of the time. »
Haoua Mahamat is a young and cheerful mother who attended the meeting this morning. « With my first daughter I did exclusive breastfeeding because I was living in the capital, N’Djamena with my first husband’s family and it was them who advised me to follow this practice. Since then we got divorced and I came back to leave with my family here. I remarried and I had 2 other children for which I did not do exclusive breastfeeding. » Her son Hassan, 14 months old, was suffering from severe acute malnutrition and treated in this UNICEF-supported health center.
Haoua had to stop exclusive breastfeeding because of traditional beliefs and family pressure. « People here think that if a child gets sick it is because the breast milk is bad quality. If you see a drop of white milk at the end of the nipple, it means that the milk is good but if the drop is clear like water it means that the milk is bad. »
Halime Mahamat has a very clear idea of the advantage of maternal milk « Breast milk is the best medicine you can give to a baby; it is a blessing for both of us. Many women refuse to breastfeed their babies because they think their milk is not good. In my family, we use to pour some maternal milk in a cup and throw an ant in it. If the ant does not survive, people say that the milk is poisoned and the woman had to stop breastfeeding. For me, breastfeeding is the best way to keep my baby healthy. »
During the early years of a child, almost 1000 brain cells connect every second – a pace never matched again. When we nourish a child’s body with the proper nutrition, we are also feeding the young brain and facilitating those neural connections.
Exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition are vital for a baby’s health and welfare. In Chad, more than half of the country’s adults (56.4 per cent) have suffered as a result of childhood stunting. This means that more than 3.4 million people of working age are unable to reach their full potential due to childhood undernutrition.