Action Against Hunger supports Baby Friendly Spaces in social centres in Armenia
Since February 2021, Action Against Hunger has been working closely with the local non-governmental organization Mission Armenia (MA) to provide baby-friendly spaces for breastfeeding mothers who have been displaced by the recent conflict in Nagorno Karabakh. The support has been provided within the project “Supporting urgent food security, nutrition, hygiene and health needs of spontaneous arrivals and vulnerable host communities in Armenia”, funded by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs’ Crisis and Support Centre (CDCS).
Hrazdan Day-Care Centre is one of four centres run by Mission Armenia (the others are located in Masis City in Ararat, Avan-Arinji and Nor-Nork in Yerevan) where such baby-friendly spaces have been established as part of a three-month training programme. Here, mothers, caregivers, and pregnant and lactating women can receive sensitization/counselling sessions on infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices and receive both group and one-to-one psychosocial support.
These sessions are designed and led by an expert on child nutrition and growth, Dr. Susanna Harutyunyan M.D. – “In the beginning the numbers attending these baby-friendly spaces and these trainings was low, but this has now increased. There is better participation, more questions coming from the mothers about many different topics, not only on what was intended to be discussed. Mothers are now planning their week around the training days as they realise that the training is of real benefit to them, and they want to continue learning.”
Over and above the planned trainings, and in response to questions being asked by mothers, Susanna has been giving advice on issues such as vaccinations against Covid-19 and the implications of having a lower viral load, encouraging mothers to wear masks and other behaviours that can help to restrict the spread of the virus. Some sessions cover food preparation and nutrition accompanied by practical culinary demonstrations – “Part of this is recording what the mother and baby are consuming within a typical 24-hour period and working to improve the nutritional content with a focus on the importance of breastfeeding, re-lactation advice” she says. “Some of the babies who are 5/6 months old have never been breastfed. We are doing more work with mothers who have only been using formula and trying to increase the amount of breastfeeding, while using formula only for complimentary feeding.”
Other areas of discussion include child security. This looks at safety and prevention of injuries where children can hurt themselves, such as through falling or closing cupboards on their fingers. Also, what to do if a child swallows a harmful substance – “We are giving phone numbers for medical advice in case of an emergency such as burns to the skin. We discuss SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) for kids under two years. In most areas of discussion, the gap in knowledge is relatively similar to that I come across in Armenia in general. But this needs to be much improved, and more work is needed to increase and spread this type of knowledge.”
Training has been accompanied by food package distribution and the provision of information brochures on breastfeeding, nutrition and meal planning. This enables mothers to cook more nutritious meals at home. “The menu provided by Susanna has become a major part of our daily cooking. I never knew that one can make such a variety of meals from cereals and my kid loves it”, said mother of one, Narine. Narine has found the trainings and the access to the centre to be very helpful. It enables her to get out and about and to have a daily routine which helps her to deal with some of the challenges she faces - “Thanks to the centre and the project in general we have gotten to know many wonderful people. Our kids are making friends and the centre has become something like a second home to us, the mothers. We visit each other outside of our time at the centre and our children play together. It is hard to imagine that in a few months we won’t have these meetings anymore because they have become such a part of our lives now.”
Armine, 35, and mother to three children, echoed these sentiments and appreciation, not only for the practical aspects of the training sessions but also the social and interpersonal benefits that have followed – “Going out and visiting the centre has become a major part of our week”, she says. “We know that on Mondays we have an important thing to do. Apart from what we learn here, it is important to communicate with other mothers, share your concerns. It helps to break up the normal everyday routine. Still, what we discuss here is mainly about our day-to-day lives, childcare, our families, but it is a whole new feeling and experience. And sessions with the psychologist helped us to understand better the behaviour of our kids, the correlation of their behaviour with ours.”
The value and benefits of these activities are equally recognized by those staff members working with the mothers and kids, as expressed by Mission Armenia staff member and social worker, Sofi Shaboyan – “The mothers keep asking about the length of the project. They are very active. At the beginning of the project, I myself was not sure that mothers will be interested in participating. Then the numbers attending the sessions started growing. Now we can’t imagine the activities of the centre without them and the kids.” Psychologist and MA social worker, Hasmik Safaryan, added: “When we see the feedback from the mothers, their active participation, interest in online groups, that means a lot to us.”