Women’s allowance popularises breastfeeding in Bangladesh  

When her son was barely a year old in 2012, Ayesha Khatun, 16, was already expecting another baby.

“I could not give him (son) rice regularly; he always howled for food,” Khatun told Khabar South Asia. “I mainly took water to suckle him.”

She lamented how she would not produce enough milk without nutritious food, and another baby coming. “Allah knows what will happen to the new baby if my son takes all my breast milk,” she worried.

In August 2012, a social worker from the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs’ local office in Niamatpur helped get her enrolled in a programme that provides an allowance of Tk 350 ($4.50) monthly for up to two years to lactating mothers in rural areas.

A Tongi-bound mother keeps her sleeping child warm as she waits at a railway station outside Dhaka in December 2006. A programme begun in August 2012 to get rural mothers to breastfeed their babies has also helped mothers in urban areas. [Farjana K. Godhuly/AFP]
Nurul Islam Talukder, an additional director at the directorate of women affairs, told Khabar that the government had decided to increase the amount to Tk 500 ($6.47) from this year.

“The money may be small, but it has huge impact in terms of popularising breastfeeding among the rural women,” said Talukder, adding that when one woman receiving the allowance looks nourished and has a healthy baby, other women follow.

The benefit also reaches poor young urban mothers — especially those working in the ready-made-garment industry.

S.K. Roy, chairman of the Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation , finds the allowance very useful in helping Bangladesh raise the breastfeeding rate significantly.

“The programme and other awareness initiatives have helped us raise the exclusive breastfeeding rate to 64% in 2013 from 43% in 2007—second highest in South Asia. The scheme demonstrates the government’s seriousness to reduce child and maternal mortality,” Roy told Khabar.

He said exclusive breastfeeding (no feeding of other food for the first six months) can reduce child mortality by 14 times, and he suggested the government bring more women under the scheme.

Abul Hossain, a deputy secretary at the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, told Khabar, “The allowance was introduced as most of the poor pregnant mothers are malnourished. We decided to give them the allowance, though small in amount, so that they can at least have some nutritious food during and after pregnancy.

“Basically, we have been trying to bring them under a social safety net.”

One beneficiary is Ayesha Khatun.

After receiving the stipend starting in September 2012, she delivered Swapna, a healthy baby girl in April 2013. The young mother remains thankful for the program’s impact upon the nutrition of both children.

“My son never tasted an egg before,” Khatun told Khabar. “Now he and I can share both. I feel much better these days.”

-Courtesy: Khabar South Aisa