Grandmothers play an important role as caregivers and as advisers to young mothers on infant feeding. Some have called them “guardians of tradition.” This tradition can at times conflict with new ideas, but need not be a barrier. I learned this during an encounter with 25-year-old Hai at a commune health center in Thai Nguyen Province.
Hai had gone to the center for advice on feeding her baby. As is common in rural areas in Viet Nam, Hai had moved in with her husband’s family after her marriage. And as is common all over the world, her mother-in-law was quick to give her advice on how to feed her baby. Hai told me, “When my baby was three months old, my mother-in-law told me to feed her rice soup because breastmilk could not provide her with enough nutrition.” But that was not the message Hai had been getting at the commune health center where a counselor had advised her to practice exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
When Hai told her mother-in-law what the counselor had said, the mother-in-law was skeptical. What was wrong with the feeding traditions that she and others had followed? She decided to talk to Duong, the counselor at the commune health center near her home. The center displayed the Mat Troi Be Tho logo indicating it had been certified for offering quality counseling services on infant and young child feeding. Duong discussed the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and told the grandmother to look at her granddaughter. Wasn’t she thriving? At four months, the granddaughter weighed 6.5 kilograms and had never suffered from diarrhea. The mother-in-law was finally convinced and said she would encourage Hai to follow the feeding practices recommended by the counselor.
I hear that mothers need accurate and timely information, support, and self-confidence to practice exclusive breastfeeding. And grandmothers need accurate information and respect for their knowledge and experience. Tensions between Hai and her mother-in-law may continue, but the Mat Troi Be Tho franchise helped bridge the generation gap on attitudes about infant feeding. Underneath the Mat Tro Be Tho logo is the tagline, “Nutrition today, health tomorrow.” What grandmother wouldn’t want that for her grandchild?
By Nguyen Thi Quynh Ch