By Andrea Arrogante
Soe Myat Thu is sharing maternal and child health information, she is the lead mother in a care group model.
In a remote village located in south-west Myanmar, Soe Myat Thu, 21, shows up at a woman’s doorstep for a home visit. Empowered with knowledge about breastfeeding and maternal and child health, education materials in hand, she is eager to speak with this mother about how to care for herself, her children and her family.
Breastfeeding is a popular topic of conversation, and a critical one in remote communities of Myanmar and around the world. If all babies were exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, an estimated 800,000 children would be saved every year.*
Four years prior, when Soe Myat Thu had her first child, she didn’t know about the importance of early and exclusive breastfeeding and believes this to be the reason why her son often falls ill. “When my son was less than 6 months old, I fed him porridge and water,” she continued, “he easily gets sick.”
Nowadays, Soe Myat Thu is better informed. Through ENRICH’s educational activities, she learned that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is important because introducing foods too early increases the risk of consuming contaminated water from poor sanitation systems. Breastmilk can also be economical for poorer communities since it provides a stable source of nutrition for healthy mothers to give to their babies. It also prevents malnutrition and protects newborns from diseases, while strengthening the ever-important bond between mom and baby.
Also part of that education is challenging traditional misbeliefs and practices surrounding breastfeeding.
“Traditionally, the first expressions of milk were thrown away because it was believed to be not good for the baby,” shared Soe Myat Thu. “Now, mothers have realized that colostrum is precious, and they feed it to their newborns.”
ENRICH supports new moms and mom’s with children under the age of 2-years in a number of different ways. ENRICH staff provide breastfeeding support when a baby struggles to latch onto the breast, teach proper nutrition to increase the mother’s milk production and coach community members to grow home gardens. Home gardens help fill families’ nutritional needs and have been especially helpful during COVID-19.
“My husband and I were able to develop a small home garden which is a very good source for various vegetables, especially in lockdown,” says Soe Myat Thu, who also noticed that other families in the community that weren’t even part of the ENRICH project had started growing their own home gardens after seeing the benefits of having one.
With everything she has learned through ENRICH, Soe Myat Thu practices healthy feeding habits with her family and is proud to have become a Lead Mother in her community. She supports women through home visits during pregnancy and post-birth, sharing her knowledge and encouraging habits to help them raise healthy children.
“I am very pleased to become a Lead Mother of the care group program. My husband is very supportive. He usually helps me rewrite home visit notes to include in my report,” she beamed. “It gives me great pleasure to provide care and support to mothers and their children.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a global threat, Soe Myat Thu’s role has evolved. She plays an essential role in keeping her community safe by spreading important health information and preventative measures for reducing infection. “These days, we, Lead Mothers, are sharing COVID-19 prevention knowledge with our neighbors, such as proper hand washing practices and staying at home to prevent exposure or spread of the disease.”