Breastfeeding at last: baby Mohamed is saved with a simple technique

Learning the Supplementary Suckling Technique: Hawa is supported by Christina, a nurse at the Moyamba hospital, and Abi, the ACF nurse responsible for developing the expertise of district medical staff in managing acute malnutrition. (Photo credit: ACF-France)

Located in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone is the district of Moyamba, one of the most vulnerable districts in the country in terms of under-nutrition, food insecurity, and access to clean water. Since 2009, ACF has been operating in the district and its capital, Moyamba, in the hopes of improving the lives of the people who live there. ACF teams use an integrated approach to fight under-nutrition: they empower local volunteers through training and support, thereby making any advances in prevention and treatment sustainable in the long run.

While the district contains several medical facilities, there is only one hospital – Moyamba Hospital – to serve the 300,000 citizens of the district. The most complicated cases of severe acute malnutrition are referred to the in-patient facility of the hospital, a facility that ACF has continuously supported over the last four years. It was here, in Moyamba Hospital, that a young mother named Hawa Kamara experienced a breakthrough in feeding her malnourished baby.

At birth, Hawa’s baby, Mohamed, weighed 3 kg. Three months later, his weight had dropped to 2.4 kg, a significant loss in weight for a baby his age. Hawa was having difficulties producing breast milk, and consequently Mohamed had not been accustomed to suckling. In an attempt to help her child, Hawa incorrectly fed him a nutrient-deficient mixture of water and sugar, leading to Mohamed’s condition deteriorating even more rapidly, until he was referred to the Moyamba Hospital, situated 50 km from his village.

It was at the hospital that the simple, but efficient, Supplementary Suckling Technique (SST) was taught to Hawa. A tube transports breast milk or a nutrient-rich mixture from a cup into the baby’s mouth: the tip of the tube is attached to the breast at the nipple, and the infant suckles and stimulates the breast at the same time.

This technique breaks the vicious cycle in which many severely malnourished are locked: Mohamed receives the nourishment he needs, Hawa is stimulated to produce more breast milk, and both are able to emotionally bond over breastfeeding.

SST is a cheap and efficient technique, with the potential to save the lives of thousands of malnourished babies, and its dissemination is a priority for ACF. With ACF’s support through both the medical support as well as education on nutrition in vulnerable communities, true transformation can take place. Lives are saved; babies thrive; families grow healthy together.

To learn more about how ACF helps beneficiaries through supporting breastfeeding, check out this story on baby tents used in the Philippines emergency.

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