Did you know that breastfeeding your baby until its 6-months supports them to grow healthy and strong?
This has become a new topic of conversation among mothers in southern rural areas of Lao PDR. A topic eluded for a long time in remote communities of Savannakhet, Saravane and Attapeu provinces, where the European Union is supporting the Accelerating Healthy Agriculture and Nutrition (AHAN) Project since 2017. The project’s beneficiaries have seen change happening recently, and recall their past practices:
“After delivering my first child, I had to work in the field with my family, I didn’t have time to breastfeed my baby” says Lamphane, a 22-years old mother in Atsaphone district, Savannakhet Province. “2 weeks after my first daughter was born, I started to give her sticky rice, otherwise she would cry a lot” explains Suay, 24-years old from Phalanxay district, Savannakhet Province. In Toumlarn District, Saravane Province, Nok adds: “I didn’t know that solid food could harm the tiny stomach of my baby”. Those harmful practices were still common until recently across the country, with less than one out of two Lao infants (0-5 month) receiving exclusive breastfeeding back in 2017 when the project started.
SOCIAL BEHAVIOR CHANGE
Old beliefs and customs have been passed through generations in these ethnic communities. However, behaviors are changing. Led by World Vision, the AHAN Project funded by the European Union and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is working with the communities to improve their nutrition, through an integrated approach with a strong focus on mother and child’s health. As a vector of this change, the Mothers’ Nutrition Group established by AHAN promotes regular meeting of pregnant women and young mothers to understand what good nutrition is. This activity includes health and nutrition education with food demonstrations. Recently, World Vision staff and local representatives from the Ministry of Health organized a dedicated session to raise awareness on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. Thanks to those meetings, the three young women are now applying the lessons with their newborn babies: “I was so happy to join the Mothers Group once I got pregnant of my second child” explains Suay, “I discovered how easy it is to provide breastmilk for my baby, there’s no need to boil water or to clean the bottles” she concludes. “I will encourage other mothers in the village to practice breastfeeding”, adds Lamphane, becoming an agent of sustainability of the project.
PROTECT BREASTFEEDING: A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY
Alongside providing education on nutrition for the mothers, the AHAN Project are also establishing Community-Change groups in all its 124 target villages. The aim of this group is for the community to identify harmful behaviors linked to nutrition, and find local solutions to address it. Lamphane and Suay’s husbands joined those groups and started to understand the importance of giving more time for their wife during the first 1,000 days of the life of the child: “Joining the C-Change group is a new good step for our family” shares Lamphane in Atsaphone, “my husband helps me more with the house work, collecting water, storing the wood and cooking… now I have the time to breastfeed”. A more equitable balance within the household’s workload also resonates in Phalanxay district: “I understand more why it is important to contribute with the house work and support my wife” says Nountar, Suay’s husband.
Like Lamphane, Suay, Nok and their husbands, the AHAN Project is transforming the lives of about 140,000 individuals in Southern Laos. In support of the World Breastfeeding Week celebrations, the European Union and World Vision are strongly committed to protect and promote breastfeeding as a shared responsibility for the healthy development of Lao children.
The AHAN project is an Integrated Nutrition Project which follows the global Essential Nutrition Practices model, incorporating interventions from health, agriculture, WASH and gender to support the National Nutrition Plan of Action and ensure that the key underlying causes and barriers that contribute to poor nutritional outcomes are addressed in 12 districts of Attapeu, Saravane and Savannakhet provinces. This four-year project is part of the European Union’s Partnership for Improved Nutrition in Lao PDR, and received additional funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for Saravane Province. It is implemented by World Vision International (lead), AVSF, GCDA and Burnet Institute.
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 Lao Social Indicator Survey LSIS II 2017