How blogger helped bring breastfeeding back to Serbia

Aleksandra Milenovic watches her 24 hours old baby Milica after breastfeeding her at the Obstetrics and gynecological Clinic "Narodni Front" in Belgrade on July 31, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 05 August 2018

How blogger helped bring breastfeeding back to Serbia

  • Breast milk produced during those early days is especially rich in nutrients and antibodies, boosting infants’ chances of survival by protecting them from infections
  • While breastfeeding rates in the first hour after birth have skyrocketed in Serbia, the figures fall off significantly in the following six months

BELGRADE: When Branka Stamenkovic gave birth to her first child in Serbia, the experience was traumatic.
Minutes after the baby was born, nurses bundled up the infant and whisked him away, separating the mother and child for three days.
When they returned, the nurses gave Stamenkovic a cursory lesson in breastfeeding and sent the pair on their way.
Upset, overwhelmed and in pain, Stamenkovic detailed her experience in a blog in 2008 that triggered an outpouring of similar stories from women across Serbia.
It also unwittingly lit the spark for a UNICEF campaign that has turned the Balkan country into a leading example of how to boost early breastfeeding rates.
“I used to write the blogs and cry,” said Stamenkovic, recalling the horror stories that women sent her, including how nurses yelled, humiliated or ignored them, and failed to provide guidance on basics like breastfeeding.
“I published over 700 stories online, and this is how UNICEF actually learned about the sad state of affairs of the baby-friendly program in Serbia,” she told AFP.
The UN children’s agency had first launched its “baby-friendly hospital initiative” in Serbia in the 1990s.
But after it handed the program over to the government in the early 2000s, breastfeeding rates fell off a cliff, plummeting to eight percent in 2010.
The UN agency pointed to the stories on Stamenkovic’s blog to make a case for re-booting the initiative.
By 2014, the percentage of women breastfeeding within the first hour after birth was back up to 51 percent — a leap unseen among other middle and low-income countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF — who are marking World Breastfeeding Week until August 7 — have long pushed for mothers to exclusively breastfeed babies during their first six months of life, starting within the first hour after birth.
Breast milk produced during those early days is especially rich in nutrients and antibodies, boosting infants’ chances of survival by protecting them from infections.
But health experts must battle a multi-billion dollar baby formula industry, dominated by American firms, that aggressively advertises breast milk substitutes to mothers from day one.
Global debate over the issue was revived last month when a US delegation reportedly tried to water down a WHO resolution that called for the promotion of breastfeeding.
US President Donald Trump added fuel to the fire when he came out in defense of formula, drawing criticism from health experts.

The early form of breast milk, known as colostrum, “is the best food that a human being can ever get,” said Djurdjica Cecez, a neonatologist at Belgrade’s Narodni Front maternity hospital.
It is “precious and irreplaceable,” she added.
One of her patients, 31-year-old Aleksandra Milenkovic, experienced two different approaches first-hand.
Two years ago she was separated from her baby boy immediately after giving birth. He was brought back to her the following morning and was already being fed a formula diet.
Last week, at the same hospital, she delivered a baby girl and began breastfeeding immediately.
“I had the fantastic opportunity to be with this baby and have it touch with me, skin to skin. We spent an hour like that and the baby was breastfed for the first time, which was wonderful,” Milenkovic said.
“I think that is the most beautiful thing that could happen,” she added with a smile, lying down next to her 24-hour-old infant, fast asleep.

Cecez, her doctor, noted that Serbia has made impressive gains in promoting early breastfeeding in recent years.
Today, in order to be accredited, Serbian maternity hospitals must meet the “baby-friendly” guidelines that promote immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and child after birth, breastfeeding within the first hour and support to keep up the practice.
But Cecez stressed that much more work needed to be done to improve maternity care in the country, from increasing hospital staff to improving the education of both health workers and future mothers.
While breastfeeding rates in the first hour after birth have skyrocketed in Serbia, the figures fall off significantly in the following six months.
According to UNICEF, only 12 percent of mothers in Serbia exclusively breastfeed their children for that period of time.
Breastfeeding can be “a very painful thing sometimes,” said Stamenkovic, recalling the lack of guidance she received at the time.
“You need somebody to provide an emotional support, to cheer you up and say, ‘yes you can do it’.”
The blogger, who has since become a politician, could never have predicted that her online efforts would have such an impact and says she is “glad” to have contributed to the change.
“But we have a long way to go yet.”


When coronavirus robs you of your sense of smell

Updated 5 min 15 sec ago

When coronavirus robs you of your sense of smell

  • “Anosmia cuts you off from the smells of life, it’s a torture.” — Jean-Michel Maillard, president of anosmie.org
PARIS: “What I miss most is the smell of my son when I kiss him, the smell of my wife’s body,” says Jean-Michel Maillard.
Anosmia — the loss of one’s sense of smell — may be an invisible handicap, but is psychologically difficult to live with and has no real treatment, he says.
And it is the price that an increasing number of people are paying after surviving a brush with the coronavirus, with some facing a seemingly long-term inability to smell.
“Anosmia cuts you off from the smells of life, it’s a torture,” says Maillard, president of anosmie.org, a French group designed to help sufferers.
If you have the condition you can no longer breathe in the smell of your first morning coffee, smell the cut grass of a freshly mown lawn or even “the reassuring smell of soap on your skin when you’re preparing for a meeting,” he says.
You only truly become aware of your sense of smell when you lose it, says Maillard, who lost his own following an accident.
And it is not just the olfactory pleasures you lose. He points out that people with anosmia are unable to smell smoke from a fire, gas from a leak, or a poorly washed dustbin.
Eating is a completely different experience too, as so much of what we appreciate in food is what we can smell, says Alain Corre, an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Hopital-Fondation Rothschild in Paris.
“There are dozens of causes of anosmia,” he says, including nasal polyps, chronic rhinitis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Now the new coronavirus has been added to that list, says Corre — with the symptom alone allowing a diagnosis of COVID-19 in some cases.
“When people lose their sense of smell and don’t get it back, we note a real change in the quality of life and a level of depression that is not insignificant,” he adds.
The problem is when the condition persists, he says.
“To be deprived of your sense of smell for a month, it’s not serious,” says Maillard. “Two months, it starts to become a problem. But after six months, you’re all alone under a bell jar.
“There’s a psychological aspect to this which is very difficult to live with,” he insists. “You need to get help.”

CovidORL study
There is no specific treatment for the condition.
You have to address the cause, says Corre, but “the problem of the anosmias linked to the virus is that often, the treatment of the viral infection has no effect on your smell.
“According to the first numbers, around 80 percent of patients suffering from COVID-19 recover spontaneously in less than a month and often even faster, in eight to 10 days.”
For others, however, it could be that the disease has destroyed their olfactory neurons — the ones that detect smells. The good news is that these neurons, at the back of the nose, are able to regenerate.
Two Paris hospitals, Rothschild and Lariboisiere, have launched a “CovidORL” study to investigate the phenomenon, testing how well different nose washes can cure anosmia.
One cortisone-based treatment has proved effective in treating post-cold instances of anosmia and offers some hope, says Corre.
Another way to approach the condition is through olfactory re-education, to try to stimulate the associations that specific smells have in your memory, he says.
His advice is to choose five smells in your kitchen that are special to you, that you really like: cinnamon say, or thyme. Breathe them in twice a day for five to 10 minutes while looking at what it is you are inhaling.
Anosmie.org has even put together a re-education program using essential oils, working with Hirac Gurden, director of neuroscience research at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). It is based on the work of Dresden-based researcher Thomas Hummel.
“As early as March, we got several hundred phone calls, emails from people who had COVID and who were calling for help because they couldn’t smell anything any more,” says Gurden.
Maillard meanwhile finished his re-education program last winter, using four smells.
“Today, I have 10 of them,” he says, including fish, cigarettes and rose essential oil. “I’ve even found a perfume that I can smell!” he declares.