When Salissou was born he was alert, lively and—most importantly—healthy. Unlike his four brothers and sisters, he never had diarrhea or needed emergency services from the health center. What made his start to life so much more successful? Since birth, his mother, Oussame Saliha Issakou, exclusively breastfed him, never supplementing that diet with local water.
Saliha, as she’s known around town, began attending the local Mother-to-Mother group in Gourbébé village, Niger before Salissou was born in July 2015. There, she found a safe space to ask questions and learn about iron tablets, prenatal consultations, exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to six months old, complementary food for older infants, hygiene and hand washing.
In the Mother-to-Mother groups, experienced mothers with training through NCBA CLUSA’s USAID-funded Resilience in the Sahel (REGIS-ER) project share information on health and nutrition for infants and young children. These model women leading the groups launch conversations and discussions in an atmosphere of trust and respect, complementing the local health agent’s trainings.
The open discussions are key to these groups. For Saliha, it was important to work through some of the trainings with the support of other mothers.
“At the beginning, when we were told about exclusive breastfeeding, I was suspicious because I found it cruel not to give any water to a child until it is six month’s old. But through discussions in the group, I understood that mother’s milk contains enough water for the baby,” Saliha said.
Having seen her first four children suffer from diarrhea, a common result of giving water to infants who can’t yet digest it, she decided to try exclusively breastfeeding Salissou. Diarrhea and dehydration are one of highest causes of infant death in West Africa.
“I now see the difference. You can see he’s very healthy and strong and since his birth he never suffered from diarrhea or any other diseases like his brothers and sisters. I kept following the group training and starting feeding him complementary food at six months old,” Saliha said.
Saliha's participation in the group impacted her whole family. Her husband, Ousmane Maman, noted how everyone in the family was healthier, and that it was contributing to quality of life beyond increased energy and better nutrition. “I feel relieved that money spent on consultations and drugs has significantly decreased and I can use this additional money to take care of my family," he said.
A healthy and nutritious start to life is key to building resilience to disease and improving future productivity and intelligence. NCBA CLUSA, with its nutrition partner URC, are supporting the development and capacity of 424 Mother-to-Mother groups in Niger, reaching over 6,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women. And with more examples and personal experience across the groups, these women are seeing clearly that investing in the early days of life pays off for communities and children down the road.