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Maternal health

A foundational way to strengthen families

Daneal Lightner

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At Bethany, our mission is family.

We work to build families, strengthen families, reunite families, and preserve families. Why? *Because family has the power to change everything. *

Inside a healthy, supported, thriving family, good things happen. Children are safe, loved, and connected. They grow into adults who raise families that are stable, resilient, and empowered.

Strong families build strong communities—the foundation of a well-functioning society.

How do we get there?

There are many ways and different paths to help families not only reach stability, but flourish and succeed. We know one essential element is health. Healthy parents. Healthy kids. Healthy babies.

During World Breastfeeding Week, we recognize breastfeeding as one way to promote health for moms and their babies.

When you consider a woman’s ability to feed and grow a healthy baby with a superfood source that comes right from within her, it’s empowering, practical, poverty-reducing, and health-enhancing. It has the power to build and strengthen families, and we’ve seen breastfeeding transform lives by making it easier for women to care for their families in such a fundamental way.

But it isn’t always easy, and for some women, it’s not even possible. Some babies don’t latch properly, some women don’t have access to the proper nutrition they need to be able to feed their babies. Some women don’t produce breastmilk at all, or enough to keep up with a growing baby. Some families have adopted or are fostering babies and must rely on formula.

For some families, breastfeeding is simply not an option. And that’s OK. While it might be the best first choice, we’re thankful for formula and for the many healthy babies it has nourished when breastmilk could not.

At Bethany, we believe families know what they need. We’re listening and learning from them to help find solutions with them, not for them.

There are many ways to promote healthy, thriving families. We recognize every family is different with varying circumstances and needs. In the end, the most important thing is helping families stay, thrive, and grow together in whatever way is best for them.

What difference can it make?

In Bethany’s global work, we encounter women and babies who could benefit most from breastfeeding—moms living in refugee camps without consistent access to clean water to mix a bottle, or moms living in extreme poverty who can’t afford formula at all.

Unfortunately, many of these mothers face conditions that make it nearly impossible for them to successfully breastfeed their babies. They often face limited access to nutrition, clean water, and adequate shelter. They sometimes suffer from significant health issues and have little to no prenatal care. Yet, it is these women, facing these very circumstances, who could benefit significantly from breastfeeding.

In Ethiopia, the women and families we serve through Family Preservation and Empowerment are often living in such severe poverty that they struggle to afford food for themselves, let alone formula for a baby—that is, when formula is even available to purchase.

To be able to provide a baby with free food that is nutrient-rich and on-demand is a God-given gift. So, Bethany works to promote breastfeeding and help make it easier. We provide women with access to food, clean water, nutrition, and health care so they can provide the same to their babies.

In Colombia, we’re serving women who have walked 300 miles or more to escape the violence and poverty they faced in Venezuela.

Consider a mother, leaving her home on foot. She can take with her only what she can carry—a baby strapped to her chest and a backpack, full of formula and bottles. She has no room for diapers, a change of clothes, water, food, blankets, or other necessities for her and her baby.

How does she clean and disinfect bottles on the trail? Where does she find water? Maybe in a stream, a stagnant pond, or a puddle in the road. We promote breastfeeding as a safe way to feed babies wherever a mother finds herself, without the worry of access to formula, bottles, or clean water.

Breastfeeding means a baby can eat no matter what.

In Albania, we work with mothers facing an unexpected pregnancy and planning to surrender their baby to an orphanage because they can’t afford to care for their child.

We give these women tools and support to help make it possible for them to keep their child with them. Breastfeeding is one such tool. We help mothers harness its benefits, like its affordability.

For families already living in or on the brink of poverty, the expense of purchasing formula is hard to absorb.

In places like Ghana, we address issues that cause children to be separated from their families, such as poverty. Breastfeeding support can help.

It makes caring for a baby affordable and brings mental, physical, and emotional health benefits to the baby, mom, and through her, to the whole family. We provide counseling and health services for these women so they can keep themselves healthy and strong, and in turn, do the same for their children.

As a part of our refugee care in Colombia and Romania, we create comfortable spaces for mothers to feed their babies near child-friendly areas, so they can watch over their older children as they play or read books.

Where we serve, we normalize breastfeeding and make it easy and comfortable so that mothers can feed their babies with dignity.

One tool in the toolbox

For refugees, migrants, and women in poverty around the world, breastfeeding can be a solution to several problems at once.

We know breastmilk provides unmatched nutrients and minerals, that it supplies antibodies to keep babies healthy and heal them when they are sick. We know breastfeeding can help moms heal physically and mentally after childbirth and that it deepens the bond between mother and baby.

These are unbeatable, universal benefits to families. But for many around the world living in dire conditions, this simple, natural way of feeding babies can change and save lives.

That’s why we promote the practice of breastfeeding across the globe wherever Bethany has a presence.

We know this is only one tool in the toolbox, and that for some families it isn’t the right tool.

But, when it’s the best option, we help make it easier for families. We encourage breastfeeding where and when it makes sense for the family.

With the vision of strengthening family as our guiding light, Bethany’s services focus on the best interest of the child and the family as a whole. Because stronger families are the foundation of a better world.

We will continue meeting mothers, children, and families wherever they are, to walk alongside them as we work to change the world through family.

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