Mothers’ support groups help to encourage breastfeeding
Elena Baibarina, Director of the Child and Maternal Health Department, Ministry of Health, Russian Federation
In the Russian Federation and all over the world, mothers' support groups are helping to encourage women to breastfeed. One such group in Russia is the Greater Moscow League of Young Mums, a nonprofit organization based in Moscow Province.
When she was pregnant with her first baby, Juliya Lesnova, a young mother from Stupino near Moscow, attended courses organized by the Greater Moscow League of Young Mums. She says that this preparation and ongoing support from League members helped her to have a trouble-free breastfeeding experience with her two children.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is the ideal food for newborns and infants, providing them with all the nutrients they need for healthy development. WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. At 6 months, babies should be introduced to mashed solid foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of 2 or later.
In Russia, around 80-90% of women start to breastfeed at the maternity clinic, but many give up quite soon, according to Elena Baibarina, Director of the Child and Maternal Health Department at the Russian Ministry of Health. “By 6 months, only 40% of children are still being breastfed and the rates of exclusive breastfeeding are much lower,” she says.
In the past 10 years, the Russian Health Ministry has been working to promote and support breastfeeding in line with WHO recommendations. The social environment exerts a strong influence on new mothers and their willingness and ability to continue to breastfeed. This is where mothers’ support groups can help by promoting breastfeeding and getting mums-to-be used to the idea.
Stupino makes the healthy choice
Stupino is a town just south of Moscow with a population of more than 70 000. It belongs to the national association of healthy cities, districts and villages in the WHO European Healthy Cities Network. 10 years ago, the municipal authorities adopted a “Stupino chooses health” policy under the slogan “Health for all, all for health”. To achieve this objective, the town supports nonprofit organizations working to improve health. “One such organization is the Greater Moscow League of Young Mums, which is successfully offering social and cultural support to pregnant women and families, helping new parents to adapt their social roles,” explains Aleksandr Racimor, deputy head of Stupino municipal district.
Back in 2002, Natal’ja Konjaeva, a mother of 2, had the idea of setting up a support group to help mothers needing breastfeeding information and support. The League has since become one of the most influential voluntary organizations in the Greater Moscow area. Guided by the global strategy for infant and young child feeding developed by WHO and UNICEF in 2003, the organization offers young mothers and mums-to-be essential information and support for all stages of infant feeding.
Getting together to breastfeed
One initiative pioneered by the League is a twice-yearly breastfeeding get-together at which about 50 young mothers gather to breastfeed together in a demonstration of support and solidarity. The get-together makes use of WHO materials and provides healthy publicity for breastfeeding, in contrast to the aggressive marketing of artificial formulas.
“Breastfeeding is so natural that it should be the absolute norm. It is essential for good health in the long-term,” says Natal’ja Konjaeva.
Every year a pram parade organized by the League of Young Mums leads a festive procession to mark the anniversary of the founding of Stupino. The whole family takes part in decorating their “pram-floats” which then file past with their young passengers aboard.
Julija Lesnova breastfed her first child for 18 months and her second for 20 months. “There is a need for organizations like these,” she says, “because women have to deal not only with physical but even more so with psychological barriers. Talking to other women in the same situation is very helpful.”
In Stupino, the success of the League’s work is reflected in the high percentage of its course attendees (83%) who breastfeed their children for more than 1 year, while 50% continue to breastfeed for more than 2 years.
League activists are awaiting the completion of a new maternity clinic in Stupino, which will have dual units for mothers and children. The organization certainly intends to push hard for this facility to comply with WHO's baby-friendly hospital initiative - a global effort to implement practices that promote and support breastfeeding.