Breastfeeding seminars

Isotope techniques confirm link between awareness raising and increased breastfeeding rates, in study supported by IAEA and UNICEF

The IAEA-supported study was designed to assess the breastfeeding practices of Mauritanian mothers, six months after childbirth, to determine the amount of breastmilk and water from sources other than breast milk consumed by babies daily. (Photo: INRSP)

“The Maternal Deuterium Oxide Technique provides a non-invasive method to objectively measure the amount of breast milk consumed by the infant. This measure can also be used to assess exclusive breastfeeding, and therefore the impact of breastfeeding promotion campaigns,” said IAEA Nutrition Specialist Alexia Alford.

The Mauritanian study, involving 86 mother-baby pairs, used this stable isotope technique to find that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding was almost double in the intervention areas compared to the control areas – 49% versus 24%. Additionally, in the intervention areas, infants were shown to have consumed greater amounts of breast milk, had better nutritional status, and suffered fewer illnesses.

“The study clearly shows that the joint actions of the Mauritanian Ministry of Health and UNICEF have had a positive impact both on local breastfeeding practices and on the nutritional status of children and mothers, improving thus their overall health,” said Khalid EL-Kari, head of nutrition and food services at Morocco’s National Center for Energy and Nuclear Science and Technology (CNESTEN), which supported the fieldwork and l analysis of the project.

The study also showed that the prevalence of different forms of malnutrition was significantly lower in the intervention areas. Children in the intervention area also visited health facilities less frequently following illness than children in the control area.

“For more than 10 years, we have been leading SMART nutrition surveys with a 24-hour recall component for infant and young child feeding (IYCF) practices. This assessment using stable isotope methodology is a great opportunity for us to corroborate our findings and reinforce our achievements,” said Mohamed Baro, Nutrition Specialist at UNICEF-Mauritania.

The implementation of the field study was funded by the UNICEF country office, while the IAEA procured and provided equipment, isotopes, supplies, training and expert missions . At the heart of the project’s success, the Designated Regional Nutrition Center – Joint research unit in nutrition, health and environment of the Ibn Tofail University of Kenitra and CNESTEN in Morocco – supported the INRSP team in Mauritania through the training and supervision of experts.

[1] MAU6006, “Using Deuterium-labeled Water Dilution Technology to Evaluate the Impact of a Program Promoting Infant and Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) Practices”