A simple and timely intervention has the potential to change the life of a person, a family, and an entire community. When Amélia Catseca gave birth to her first two children, she followed the advice of other women in her family, who told her not to breastfeed immediately. She believed a common myth in Mozambique: that the first yellow milk (the colostrum) is not good for the baby, and it needs to be squeezed into a cloth and thrown away. This misinformation encourages women to wait to breastfeed until white milk starts to come out, which has devastating effects on the health of infant children. Nutrition during the first two years is a crucial window of opportunity to shape a child’s future.
Knowledge is power: Dispelling health myths for mothers in local communities
As a result of myths and lack of knowledge, Amélia first two daughters struggled with low weight as infants. But when Amélia became pregnant with her third child, she was selected to be a part of counseling sessions on health and nutrition, designed to improve the nutrition of mothers and children in Mozambique’s Tete Province. These support groups are led by community members in partnership with Helen Keller in Mozambique villages and are designed to reach at-risk expectant mothers like Amélia. Their impact extends far beyond pregnancy, creating a brighter future for children as they develop in their crucial early years.
Counseling sessions are led by “model mothers” – women in the community who are trained by Helen Keller staff. In Amelia’s village of Nhandoa, she learned the importance of a balanced diet and prenatal appointments during her pregnancy. Her model mother provided Amelia with supplements and medications, and trained her in proper hygiene practices for preparing meals and in the home. The sessions are powerful because they are personal – Amelia’s model mother herself believed the same myths before joining the project, and has her own similar experiences to share.
When women embrace nutrition practices, they help children reach their full potential
As a result of these counseling sessions, Amelia’s third pregnancy was different. Her weight gain was normal, she remained strong and healthy until the end of her pregnancy, and she gave birth to a baby girl with a healthy weight. And with the encouragement of her model mother, Amelia started breastfeeding her daughter immediately, taking advantage of the colostrum, which has vital nutrients for newborns. The counseling sessions provided by model mothers are life-changing for Amelia and for her family, as she will pass this knowledge and behaviors to her neighbors and to her own daughters and to future mothers of the community. She has also continued to learn how to support her family as they grow healthy and strong.
” Before, we did what our grandmothers and our mothers-in-law instructed us to do…Now, thanks to the teachings I had with the model mother, my last daughter was monitored from pregnancy until the moment she was born and she was born with a good weight.”Amélia Catseca
“I thank Helen Keller very much for the support given us through this project. Before, we did what our grandmothers and our mothers-in-law instructed us to do. When I had my first child, I didn’t know that I had to put the baby to my breast to stimulate milk. When my children had frequent diarrhea, I didn’t know that it could be caused by the porridge I was feeding them early on, but I believed what I was told, that diarrhea is a sign that the baby’s stomach is cleaning out. Now, thanks to the teachings I had with the model mother, my last daughter was monitored from pregnancy until the moment she was born and she was born with a good weight. Now I will advise other mothers in the village to follow the teachings of the model mothers and I will continue to breastfeed my daughter without giving other foods, not even water, until she is 6 months old.” —Amélia Catseca
Millions of families are struggling to find nutritious foods and basic healthcare. But with the right support, at the right time, every person can unlock their true potential. Helen Keller Intl provides vital support to families, especially during this hunger crisis spurred by the global pandemic. With your support, together we can help people create lasting change in their own lives and for generations to come.
Our global community of compassionate individuals is already making a difference – but there’s so much more to be done. We can change the future if we respond effectively and powerfully now.