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A thousand days of healthcare helping to set up children for life

Becoming a new mother can be accompanied by many exciting and important new tasks, from holding and feeding the new baby to making sure she is safe and clean, and getting her medical attention if she gets sick. It can also be a stressful time for many women and their families as they try to navigate motherhood and the best way to care for their babies and themselves.  

In remote villages in Huaphanh Province in Laos, volunteers from ChildFund’s maternal and child health and nutrition project are helping to reduce the stress that mothers can face, and ensure they and their babies are safe and healthy.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Mother-of-four Souk is a ChildFund volunteer. Since 2018, Souk has been helping dozens of mothers in her village care for themselves and their babies for 1,000 days, the time from when a woman becomes pregnant to her child’s second birthday. This period of 1,000 days is critical to a child’s healthy development. Good nutrition for both mother and baby, for example, is necessary for proper brain development and laying the foundations for good health throughout a child’s life.

In remote villages in Laos, says Souk, women and their families have traditionally relied on outdated and potentially unsafe practices because of the lack of access to professional health care, information and advice.

“Before ChildFund’s ‘1,000 days’ activities, most mothers and their families were not fully taking care of their own health,” Souk says. “Mothers worked too hard, did not eat a variety of food groups, and did not pay attention to prenatal health needs like taking iron pills.

“After giving birth they followed traditional practices like restricting what foods new mothers could eat.  They also lacked some of the skills to take care of newborn infants, and sometimes they did not follow doctors’ instructions on breastfeeding, because they believed they had to give their baby food and water so they would not be hungry and thirsty.

“This led to many babies becoming unhealthy and malnourished, which sometimes caused stunting and underweight infants.”

After learning about about maternal and child health through ChildFund’s project, Souk is now helping mothers develop safer and healthy practices.

Souk says that before ChildFund’s project, there was also no family planning; many mothers had multiple pregnancies within a short period of time. “It was unhealthy for mothers.”

In the ChildFund’s training sessions for volunteers, Souk learnt about maternal and child health and is now helping mothers develop safer and healthy practices. Souk says she sees positive changes in families within six months of working with them.

“I provide advice to mothers on how to take care of new infants, including how to breastfeed, and I take measurements of their child’s height and weight,” she says. “We ensure that pregnant mothers receive prenatal checks at least four times before birth. The women’s families also provide support by helping out with housework to reduce pregnant women’s heavy workloads so they have time to relax, as well as helping provide them with nutritious foods to keep them healthy.”

Becoming a volunteer has been rewarding and has taught her a lot, says Souk. “Before the project came to our village, I did not know everything about properly caring for infants. I used to practise old, traditional ways.”

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