Caring for a newborn baby can be overwhelming, especially for first-time parents. Mothers support groups provide a forum for women to share their challenges and find practical solutions in a friendly setting.
Valentine, a teenage mother of a month-old baby knows this all too well. She recently shared her experience as a first-time mother with other mothers in a support group meeting.
“Relatives gave me conflicting opinions on how I should take care of the child and it was frustrating,” says 18-year-old Valentine, cuddling her first baby, born just a month ago.
Valentine recalls peers advising her to seek help from a traditional birth attendant instead of going to deliver in hospital. She would have been convinced had she not been taught otherwise by outreach workers who organized a medical camp near her home in Koitebes, Baringo County.
The health workers explained to Valentine the benefits of attending antenatal clinic. They counselled and gave her the confidence to visit the local health facility for routine check-ups. When the time came, she delivered safely at the facility under the care of skilled attendants.
After giving birth, Valentine joined a mother-to-mother support group. The group is one of many that have been formed with the help of health volunteers and hospital workers Afya Uzazi Program trained. The groups are an important part of the Baby Friendly Community Initiative (BFCI), an intervention that promotes proper nutrition and care for infants and young children.
The groups, each with about 20 members, support pregnant and lactating mothers by providing basic health education in friendly environment, where women can learn from health workers and from one another on how to protect their own health and that of their babies.
Often health officials join such meeting to validate the women’s knowledge. They hear from the mothers and help to address the challenges they face. Valentine shared her experiences in one such meeting where local health care worker Samuel Kimosop and the community health extension, Isaac Sirikwa, led the discussions.
“The purpose of this group is to learn new skills and also help you manage the group,” said Samuel. He then invited comments from the women.
Another group member, Marsa Cheruto, also shared her story. She said that she has been relying on her mother-in-law for guidance but realized some of them conflicted with healthy practices.
“Gogo (mother-in-law) insisted I introduce the baby to other foods to make him grow strong,” said Marsa, with a wry smile. “Today, I have learnt that I should practice exclusive breastfeeding until six months.”
Violet Busolu, a community health volunteer (CHV), helps the women manage the support group. She keeps the register and helps to plan topics and facilitate learning sessions.
Violet says the groups are useful. Caring for a new born can sometimes be stressful and sharing experiences makes it easier, she said.
According to Violet, most women in her locality work for long hours in the fields and see breastfeeding as a hindrance. Many introduce babies to solid food too early.
“In this group, mothers learn new information and skills, talk about their experiences and make informed decisions that will benefit to the babies,” says Violet.
Photos: Denise Akun, Afya Uzazi Nakuru-Baringo Program.
Story: Denise Akun and George Obanyi, Afya Uzazi