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Ethiopia: Infant and child feeding practices improved

This family has learned about proper infant and young child feeding practices from World Vision. Photo: ©2011 John D McHugh for World Vision

This family has learned about proper infant and young child
feeding practices from World Vision.
Photo: ©2011 John D McHugh for World Vision

by Kathryn Reider, World Vision

Mothers in Ethiopia, following their traditional understanding of child feeding, used to give their newborns herbal extracts to relieve abdominal cramps, discarded colostrum, and introduced complementary feeding as early as three months—all of which contributed to malnourishment in their children.

However, World Vision is working to change parents’ understanding of infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices, as well as to influence the health system in the country to include this information in basic health packages that the population receives.

The project has met with great success thus far—in Humbo after one year of implementation, continuation of breastfeeding and avoidance of pre-lacteal feeding were practiced by over 80 percent of mothers, and over 50 percent of mothers reported timely introduction of complementary feeding after six months. Practices that still need emphasis, such as feeding colostrum to newborns and providing a diverse diet including meat, poultry, fish, and eggs to children are being emphasized in the second year of the project.

“When we worked on documentation of current feeding practices at the initial phase of this project, the malpractices were clear to us and the consequences on children’s health made obvious,” said Yenenesh Loha, a health worker in Ethiopia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 115 million children under age 5 worldwide are underweight, and 178 million are too short for their age group (stunted). Stunting is a measure of chronic malnutrition—as growth slows, brain development lags, which over the long term leads to poor economic development in countries with high burdens of stunting.

World Vision’s baseline survey showed that 32 percent of children 6-24 months are stunted in the combined implementation districts, including Humbo. Nationally, 44 percent of children under 5 are stunted according to the 2011 Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey.

It is well established in the health field that the first two years of a child’s life are key to his future health, a fact that is now being learned and shared by health workers in Humbo.

“The first two years of a child’s life is very critical to growth and development,” says Asaminew Workineh, a supervisor in the Humbo district. “Any damage due to poor IYCF practices in this period is irreversible. This damage in turn negatively affects the child’s future life, future family, and the whole nation. I believe practicing optimal IYCF is laying a cornerstone.”

Tomorrow we will share how World Vision is using peer mothers to support new mothers in Ethiopia.

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