1 August 2023 - Mozambique

Breastfeeding during Emergencies: A case study from Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

Aminda and Lucia, 1 month old twins sleeping outside their family's home in Mozambique

Aminda and Lucia, 1 month old twins sleeping outside their family's home in Mozambique. Save the Children.

World Breastfeeding Week 2023 aims to promote breastfeeding by making a difference for working mothers and fathers. But what happens when people lose their right to work due to emergency situations? Not only is the right to work lost but also access to education, water, sanitation, hygiene, health, and nutrition services.

During emergencies the needs of children and their parents do not stop, children will not stop being born in an emergency and therefore health services that support birth should be established from the initial phase of an emergency. Children will also not stop feeding, however, their mothers may be immersed in different concerns that may limit their confidence in their ability to breastfeed, therefore services to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in emergency situations are equally important in the initial phase of emergencies.

As a recent example of this type of intervention, I visited the Save the Children's Health and Nutrition project in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique which is part of a multi-sectoral programme that implements water, sanitization, hygiene, and protection activities and responds to the humanitarian emergency of internal displacement in the region. Due to the internal conflict, entire families have had to change their place of residence, not only losing their jobs but overwhelming the capacity of the local health system.

Save the Children supports the local health system through mobile health brigades that bring the country's standard health and nutrition services package to communities located far from health facilities. These are the communities where people displaced by the internal conflict now live. Among the services offered is the health child consultation, where Save the Children detects cases of breastfeeding difficulties and refers them to the staff in charge of promotion, protection, and support for infant and young children feeding (IYCF), who organize support groups in an exclusive space for mothers, caregivers, and children under 2 years of age to solve common difficulties related to breastfeeding, and for specific difficulties that require it, individual counseling is provided.

During this visit I could meet Joana and Paulo who have 7 children, the oldest is 18 years old and the youngest are twins Rui and Estevão who are 17 months old. They recall that when their twins were born, they had difficulties with breastfeeding because the twins did not latch well to the breast, Joana said it was very difficult for her to breastfeed both because they cried at the same time, and she felt that no milk was coming out. They came to Save the Children's mobile brigade when the emergency response started and they remember that Vania, Save the Children's infant feeding officer helped them to know how to improve the technique to breastfeed and produce the right amount of breast milk for both twins and the position to be able to breastfeed both at the same time. They kept attending monthly check-ups to monitor the twins' weight.

These types of interventions save lives.  Breastfeeding could prevent 823,000 deaths of children under 5 years [1], however, it is not easy, offering support, promotion, and protection services is always essential and especially important during emergencies when families lose their usual emotional, economic, or employment stability.

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[1] Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect, The Lancet Breastfeeding Series Group, 2016

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