Salma Hayek arrived in Sierra Leone in September as a UNICEF ambassador with a mission to help fight tetanus, a leading cause of death in the country for mothers and their babies. Twenty one percent of infant deaths in the country are related to tetanus. Backed by sponsorship from Pampers, she was delivering vaccines which can prevent this fatal, but completely preventable, disease. UNICEF hopes to totally eradicate tetanus worldwide by 2012.
While touring the country she chose to breastfeed a starving baby who was born on the same day as her one year old daughter. Unfortunately, most mothers in Sierra Leone stop nursing their children after just a few months as it is culturally unacceptable to continue. Their husbands believe it is wrong to have sex with a nursing mother so they feel pressured to stop. Consequently, Sierra Leone has the highest infant mortality in the world, caused predominantly by malnutrition. Much of this could be avoided if the mothers breastfed their babies. The World Health Organization recommends nursing for two years and in Sierra Leone this would literally be life saving for the children of this nation.
Hayek has a huge passion for breastfeeding and admits to finding it addictive. She chose to breastfeed the African baby to reduce the stigma on breastfeeding women and to help a hungry child that was very much in need. For Hayek, this was a very natural thing to do as her great-grandmother breastfed a stranger’s starving baby many years before in Mexico. This is a wonderful example of a modern day wet nurse in action.
Another headlining example was the Chinese police woman who breastfed eight babies who were either orphaned or whose mothers were unable to provide breast milk following the trauma of a severe earthquake that hit the Sichuan province in May 2008. Watch the video for more on her story.
Here are mothers doing everything in their power to help those in need around them and using breastfeeding as a powerful tool. We don’t all live in disaster areas but there are things we can do to make a difference. Perhaps you can talk to a pregnant friend and explain the benefits of nursing or breastfeed your baby in public so the social stigma is removed. You can show other children that nursing is important and a very natural part of motherhood and life. I believe the greatest changes happen when we take small steps to help those around us. This in turn ends up making lasting changes in our world. What can you do today to promote the importance of breastfeeding in your world?