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Meet Rani Devi, a resident of Ramdas Majholi villages in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Besides being a farmer herself, she also sometimes helps her husband in the field and looks after her family. Having grown up in a small village where people are unaware of health-related issues, and ignorant of women’s health, especially during pregnancy, Rani Devi suffers the same ignorance because there is no one to guide her. The Muskaan Self-Help Group, affiliated with the Sangam Mahila Gram Sangathan, has been Rani Devi’s primary source of support.
She has two children, one is almost 6 years old, and the other has just turned 9 months old. She gave birth to her firstborn in her house itself as she was unaware of the importance of antenatal checkups, postnatal checkups, and institutional deliveries. Due to a lack of awareness of the importance of breastmilk and breastfeeding, she did not breastfeed her child and resorted to an external source of milk and foods, thereby harming the child. Gradually, her child became lethargic, and she had to frequently visit the doctor due to repeated illness. All this has started to affect the household chores, and the family’s financial situation.
In one of the self-help group meetings attended by Rani Devi, Sangeeta Kumari from the self-help group conducted a session on women’s health, during a group meeting where she gave the message on the importance of colostrum, early and exclusive breastfeeding. Rani learned about why the baby should only be given the mother’s milk for six months, after that the mother’s milk should be supplemented by supplementary food; and how breastmilk helps the child develop physically and mentally, and he or she becomes healthy and fit.
The Community Nutrition Resource Person (CNRP), Meera visited Rani Devi’s house when she became pregnant for the second time and gave her information on registration in pregnancy, periodic checks, iron, and calcium tablets, and diversifying her diet daily. All things are carefully listened to and implemented by Rani Devi and Meena Ji.
Immediately after Rani Devi’s second child was born, she followed all the instructions given to her. She also started to feed the child with supplementary food after six months. Rani is now sharing and spreading the benefits of breastmilk and breastfeeding with her fellow mothers around her to ensure that their children have a healthy future.
Sandhya Devi, from Simri in the Buxar district, is a mother of two. At 19 years of age, Sandhya married Arjun Thakur, who works in the private sector and is the sole earner in the joint family. Sandhya became pregnant shortly after her marriage. Due to a lack of information, she was unable to get the proper care and food during pregnancy, and as a result, she gave birth to a weak baby who weighed around 2kgs. The baby girl was born in a government hospital. For five days, the girl was under the special care of a doctor in a private hospital due to her low birth weight, and it seemed that she wouldn’t survive. By god’s grace and the strong efforts of doctors, the child was saved. As time passed, the girl started growing, but because of financial constraints and lack of knowledge, her upbringing/eating habits were not properly nurtured.
After 9 months of parenting, Sandhya Devi becomes pregnant again. After hearing this, her family members became very concerned about her pregnancy and possible complications. In the self-help group, she was informed by Community Mobiliser (CM) Didi of a lot of information relating to healthy nutrition for pregnant and lactating women. After Sandhya’s sister-in-law registered Sandhya’s name on the list, the Community Nutrition Resource Person (CNRP) Chanda Devi and Kiran Devi went to Sandhya’s house for a home visit. Chanda Devi explained to her that she was pregnant prematurely since she should have had a three-year gap between children, so this time she will need special attention.
Chanda Devi advised her to keep in touch with Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) and doctor throughout her pregnancy and instructed her to take vaccines, iron, and calcium tablets, and continuously eat nutritious food, which should include at least five of the ten food groups.
After giving birth to a healthy baby, Sandhya recalled what’s been taught to her by CM and she began to breastfeed immediately after the baby was born. Despite her poor health, she appears very happy after giving birth, as she appears to be producing plenty of milk this time. The child is now 2 months and 15 days old, and Sandhya only feeds her milk to the child. The child is healthy and there were no complications at birth. Everyone in the family was delighted to see her and the child.
Her pregnancy journey would not have been possible without the women from the self-help group who showed patience and provided her with all the correct information. “I will be haunted by my lack of information at the time of my first child for the rest of my life”, says Sandhya, who now helps women around her during their pregnancy.