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Story and Perspective

Honoring First-Time Moms on Mother’s Day

Seun Asala

For a woman, having her first baby can be one of the most magical times in her life. A new mother may describe the love for her baby as transcending all boundaries—an infinite, all-encompassing sort of love.

But for many young women around the world, the experience of becoming pregnant and raising their first child can be terrifying—especially when the pregnancy is unintended. Each year, millions of young mothers are forced to drop out of school and do not have the resources or support they need to care for themselves and their children.

For too many girls, the experience can be deadly. Pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescents, 15-19 years old.

This Mother’s Day, Pathfinder International celebrates the many young women whose lives have improved through our programs for first-time mothers. These endeavors include those led by our Evidence to Action (E2A) project in Cross River State, Nigeria.

Happiness, Cross River State, Nigeria
Sandra, Cross River State, Nigeria

E2A reached first-time mothers across multiple countries, including Nigeria, with interventions tailored to young mothers’ needs—whether they were newly pregnant, raising their first child, single or married, 15 or 25, with or without secondary education, and from a variety of social and economic situations.

Peer group discussion led by Queen Esther Peters in Cross River State, Nigeria
During these discussions, young moms will soothe, nurse, and balance their babies on their laps. Pregnant teens and 20-somethings will share their experiences and get lifesaving health advice. First-time mothers will discover strategies to resolve conflicts and make decisions with their male partners.

Peer group discussion led by Queen Esther Peters in Cross River State, Nigeria. Photo: Seun Asala

I learned so many things. I learned about exclusive breastfeeding… about my health as a mother…about caring for my baby.

Queen Esther Peters, speaking of her experience with the first-time mothers program

Decision-making — I have always thought that it’s only the man of the house that has the final decision. But when [the project] came, they made me understand family decisions are for the two spouses.

Prince Emmanuel, Queen Esther’s partner, and a first-time father

The programs combined the following approaches:

Peer groups led by first-time mothers. First-time mothers bring their peers together to learn about family planning, how to care for their children, and to discuss other important issues in their lives, creating a safe space for new mothers to talk about sensitive and pressing topics.

Small groups for male partners or co-parents. During group discussions, partners learn how to be supportive of the first-time mothers in their lives. They talk about maternal and newborn health and gender issues, like how to effectively communicate with their partners about family planning.

Information sessions with key influencers. These sessions are meant to engage those with influence over first-time mothers’ lives—like mothers-in-law and religious leaders—to be supportive of the young mother’s health and well-being.

Home visits by community health workers. Community health workers reach first-time mothers with family planning and other health care needs and refer them for services provided at local clinics.

Support to health providers. Health providers need the knowledge and skills to serve first-time mothers in a way that is sensitive to their specific situations. Trainings for health providers included skills for counseling first-time mothers on family planning choices, providing antenatal care, and offering youth-friendly reproductive health services that resonate with the needs of new mothers and their children.

Data generation and monitoring. Through the consistent collection and analysis of data from our programs, we learned that the interventions described here have a positive impact on first-time mothers’ lives, in terms of raising healthy children and working toward their own aspirations in life.  Data collection included both health service statistics and interviews with first-time mothers, health workers, program implementers and others to learn how they viewed the interventions.

Across our programs, we saw many more mothers choosing to use contraception to space, delay, or prevent future pregnancies; better communication and balance between couples on matters of reproductive health and parenting roles; and, more mothers practicing exclusive breastfeeding.

Learn more about our insights from Pathfinder’s programs for first-time mothers.

Happiness and her daughter, Cross River State, Nigeria. Photo: Seun Asala

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