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I am here, Boss

Indonesia, December 23, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Farida Ayu Erikawati/Mercy Corps  </span>
    May with her seven-month-old daughter. Photo: Farida Ayu Erikawati/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Farida Ayu Erikawati/Mercy Corps  </span>
    May (middle of bottom row) during her breastfeeding training in early November. Photo: Farida Ayu Erikawati/Mercy Corps

Her name is Marhamah, but people call her May. She is not yet 32 years old and already has three children. Her youngest child is seven-month-old girl who is breastfeeding. When I asked why she is still giving breastmilk to her, she answered that breastmilk is the best food for the baby, and says that she will continue to breastfeed until her baby daughter is at least two years old.

May works as a house servant and takes care of her three children. Her husband works as a driver — he only comes home once a week, so she's the one who arranges for all the needs of the family.

On November 12, May came to her local community health post to participate in the selection to be a breastfeeding motivator for Mercy Corps' Healthy Start Program. At that time, May felt uncertain, because she didn't finish elementary school.

“Can I join this motivator selection if I am not an elementary graduate?” she asked. She was worried that she will be mocked, because her level of schooling her job as a house servant. But after we explained that Healthy Start's peer support groups aimed to help mothers continue breastfeeding their babies, May decided to join the selection process. After all, she is a breastfeeding mother herself.

So May went through Mercy Corps' four-day breastfeeding motivator training alongside eleven friends. The training topics of training included pregnancy, birth, early breastfeeding and infancy after six months old. Three days after training was completed, she knew that her boss’s sister was delivering her baby in a private hospital at east Jakarta, and she wanted to see her. When May went to the hospital, she brought the Mercy Corps training kit — a module of ten topics on breastfeeding.

She also wore her badge that identified her as a breastfeeding motivator — one that reads “"Breastfeeding? Ask me!"

With full confidence, May entered the operating room. She met the doctors and nurse. One of the doctors asked her, “Who are you? Where do you come from? What are you doing here?”

She replied, “My name is May. I got trained as breastfeeding motivator by Mercy Corps, and I am the patient's relative. I want to help her to do an early initiation of breastfeeding.”

The doctor was pretty surprised, and asked about the badge she was wearing — “What is early initiation of breastfeeding?”

May explained, “Early initiation is the process where the baby be put on the mother’s chest immediately after he is born, and crawls to find the mother’s breasts on his own. Both mother and baby benefit from this practice. The baby will get colostrum for antibodies, and the mother won’t have difficulties in breastfeeding."

The doctor let May stay in the operating room.

At first, the boss’s sister refused to do early initiation. But after being given counseling on the advantages on early initiation, she agreed to do it. The doctor put the baby on the mother's chest — she was very happy to see the process, and surprised that the baby crawled all the way up to her breast.

After her intervention on early initiation, May hopes the mother can continue to do exclusive breastfeeding for six months and maintain it until the baby is two years old. Early initiation is the key to successful breastfeeding — and better health for both mother and child.