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Mothers of the Commonwealth

AS the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow come ever closer we continue our series looking at the alliance of nations with five stories which celebrate Mother's Day.

The stories come in association with Unicef, the world's leading organisation for children, working in more than 190 countries.

It works with mothers all over the world to make a lasting difference to children's lives - providing simple but life-saving medicine and healthcare around childbirth, ensuring babies are registered at birth so their existence is recognised and supporting their basic human rights to education, healthcare and clean water.

In this special year for Glasgow and Scotland, Unicef is working in partnership with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games to Put Children First.

We are asking readers to support this work with mothers and children to give them a better start in life.

Your donation, however big or small, will help give children a better chance at growing up safe, happy and healthy.

SCOTLAND: TAMMY'S STORY

' Mother's Day is always special, but for me this year is extra poignant. It is the eighth birthday of my beautiful son Christopher, and we will be celebrating with a bowling party for his friends and then a family gathering at home. It was very different eight years ago, when we didn't know whether he was going to live or die.

Christopher was born very early at 29 weeks in Wishaw General Hospital, Lanarkshire, a Unicef UK Baby Friendly-accredited hospital. He was my first child, and I was stunned when he was born so tiny and frail - only 3lb 3oz.

To begin with the neonatal unit was a very scary environment to be in, my tiny little bundle covered in wires and surrounded by large, noisy monitors.

At first I was frightened to move an inch, but with reassurance from the staff caring for Christopher, I was able to touch him and get involved in his care. Then the staff asked me to provide breast milk for him, explaining that it can be a life-saver for vulnerable babies and help prevent potentially fatal illness.

Breastfeeding was not something I had thought about during my pregnancy - none of my family or friends had breastfed, so I planned to do what I had seen and that was to give "baby milk" out of a bottle. But when I was told about the importance of breast milk to premature babies, it felt like I was being offered a chance to help my baby pull through. This was something that only I could do, and there was no question that I would do everything I could to give Christopher the best chance of surviving.

I didn't know how my body worked in relation to producing breast milk, but the staff were brilliant at showing me how to express milk and encouraging me to keep going. As the days passed, bringing Christopher my milk that I had expressed was just a wonderful feeling, as if I was bringing him a special gift.

The emotional rollercoaster didn't get any easier when, on day seven, we were informed that Christopher had meningitis. This only increased my resolve to keep expressing breast milk for him.

Once Christopher was well enough

staff also encouraged me to have lots of skin contact with my baby, as it would help calm and soothe him, regulate his temperature and heartbeat, and help

fight infections.

It was our skin-to-skin cuddles I looked forward to the most - "MY" baby in "MY" arms - what a fabulous feeling it was.

During one episode of skin contact with Christopher when he was three weeks old he started feeding directly from the breast. It was the best feeling in the world! At that point I thought "my baby knows what he wants", and that's when I decided to continue to breastfeed. For the next few weeks I spent every waking minute with Christopher at the neonatal unit. When I left to go home late in the evening, I would open the incubator and inhale his scent, which would have to last me until I returned in the morning. It was a horrible feeling having to leave without my baby.

At five-and-a-half weeks I got to take my son home, exclusively breastfeeding. I had come to understand how breastfeeding provides so many health benefits for babies, and after his difficult start I wanted Christopher to have every chance of the best outcome. At home, I started attending my local breastfeeding support group, where I was asked to become a volunteer breastfeeding peer supporter. I trained to become a "community mother" and got a great feeling of satisfaction helping and supporting other mums.

I continued to breastfeed Christopher to the age of two-and-a-half. Shortly afterwards, I had my little girl and I also exclusively breastfed her. Today, on his eighth birthday, I am delighted to report that my son is now a healthy boy and has met all his milestones. I believe "my" breast milk has had a lot to do with that. Christopher is fully aware how his life started and we often talk and reflect back on how things were and how things are now. I love to cuddle my children, Christopher and Amber, and today, Mothers' Day, I will be giving them the biggest cuddle of all.

The Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative works with hospitals and health facilities throughout Scotland to help get every baby off to the best start through supporting mothers to nurture and feed their babies.

BANGLADESH: HAZERA'S STORY

'I want my baby. Please save my baby," Hazera Begum screams out in pain as doctors carry out an emergency operation to deliver her infant.

This is her second baby after a gap of 10 years and she's had to endure two miscarriages in the intervening years.

She had ruptured her membrane two

days earlier and because her condition was so serious she was taken straight to the state-of-the-art maternity hospital in Tangail, a city in central Bangladesh.

The purpose-built centre is part of a Unicef project delivered alongside other partners to tackle the huge problem of maternal and neonatal deaths in Bangladesh, where 83,000 newborn babies die every year.

The hospital is at the centre of a wider project to help mothers in this city and the surrounding area, which aims to cut newborn deaths by 20% over three years

as part of Unicef's contribution to tackling one of the vital Millennium Development Goals agreed by world leaders back in 2000.

The project has also trained community health volunteers to support pregnant women and give them the best advice on how to care for their baby before and immediately after birth.

The project is also helping to break traditional beliefs in a male-dominated society that expectant mothers should be kept behind closed doors.

After two days of trauma, Hazera finally gave birth to her son, Juael, six weeks prematurely and weighing only three pounds. Three days later, as she gently pats him on her lap, she pays tribute to the community health volunteer who was responsible for getting her to hospital. "Her guidance helped me get treatment in time," she says.

Seemingly simple interventions like these really do save lives. The doctor who

treated Hazera pointed out: "The baby's condition might have gone beyond

control if the delivery had happened

at home."

UGANDA: FARIDAH'S STORY

Faridah Mutebi proudly holds up her child's birth certificate. It is a simple piece of paper that we take for granted but in large parts of Uganda, and across Africa, it is crucial for a child's chances of

a better life.

Those children without identification documents are often excluded from education, healthcare and social security.

If children are separated from their families because of natural disasters, conflict or exploitation, the lack of a birth certificate can make it much harder for them to be reunited. It is estimated that 230 million under-fives have never been registered; that's about one-third of the world's children under five.

"I remember people asked our village leader for a birth certificate and he didn't have one,'' says Faridah. ''I now have the certificate for my child so she will not suffer like the village leader in the future."

In Uganda, the process of birth registration used to take several months and many mothers were put

off by the complexity and the cost.

Unicef is now using an innovative

new approach, working with a mobile phone network operator to help tackle

the problem.

Birth registration can now be taken

into the remotest areas and completed within a few minutes. The registrar can update records on the move via a mobile phone and certificates can be handed out in the village.

Collecting information this way can also help the Ugandan government get a better picture of the population and its needs.

Geeta Rao Gupta, Unicef's deputy executive director, emphasises the importance of the work. "Birth registration is more than just a right. It's how societies first recognise and acknowledge a child's identity and existence. It's also key to guaranteeing that children are not forgotten, denied their rights or hidden from the progress of their nations."

MOZAMBIQUE: MELINA'S STORY

Melina is like many grandmothers in Mozambique, bringing up her grandchildren after HIV/Aids have claimed the lives of their parents.

In her late seventies, she does whatever she can for her three grandchildren, aged between two and 10.

But when social services came to help her, she fled, thinking they were after the children.

At the time the family lived in a shack made of wood planks and a thatched roof. The youngest child was severely malnourished.

Since then the family has received help with food while the process of finding a plot of land to build a new home for them is under way.

The three children have been given proper birth certificates, and the older ones are in school.

They also have mosquito nets, which Melina takes precious care of.

The youngest is now visibly well nourished. The middle one writes his name on a paper, and shows it around. This proud grandmother is in awe and can hardly contain her pride, as the neighbours applaud the eight-year-old boy.

Figures from 2011 show that as many as 13% of children in Mozambique had lost one or both parents to the ravages of Aids.

It is customary here for children to be looked after by a grandparent, if one is still alive and willing to take on the task.

Unicef helps support grandparents who have stepped in to care for their grandchildren, including via a network of mobile social worker teams.

Melina will never stop demanding the best for her grandchildren. "I want more food, blankets, clothing and school.

"I want more of everything," she says with determination.

SIERRA LEONE: SELINA'S

STORY

'I didn't waste any time coming to the clinic this morning when I found out that she was running a fever,'' says Selina George in Taiama, Sierra Leone. ''I do not want to lose Grace like I did my last baby. Since that time it was difficult for me to have another baby until now. I am so happy I have another girl."

Selina lost her daughter in 2009, when she was just five months old. She too had a fever, but at first Selina didn't worry too much and just gave her some medicine at home. But her daughter got worse so Selina had to borrow money before undertaking the long walk to hospital. The baby died during the journey.

Selina's story is not an uncommon one in this West African state, which is still recovering from years of civil war.

Unicef figures show nearly one in every five children dies before reaching his or her fifth birthday. One in eight mothers risks death during childbirth in the course of her life. Sierra Leone is one of the world's most dangerous places for a woman to be pregnant and a child to be born.

The lack of access to affordable health care has been a key factor behind the high level of pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths in Sierra Leone. The underlying causes of death for children are malaria, anaemia, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malnutrition. Mothers often don't know the best ways to care for their babies when they get ill.

The government introduced a free healthcare policy four years ago for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and children under five. Unicef supports the policy by supplying essential drugs and vaccines to support maternal and child health. It also trains health workers and gives mothers vital advice on breastfeeding, nutrition, hygiene and how to respond if a baby stops breathing. This work is helping around half a million mothers and one million children under five every year.

"With my other children I never used to come to the clinic regularly because I did not have the money to pay,'' says Selina. ''The nurses also advise us that we should not wait until the baby's condition is worse before we take them to the hospital because by then it might be too late. With the free healthcare, more women come to the clinic and also bring their babies for medical attention. When I came in today my daughter has been examined and I was told she has malaria. I did not pay any money for the medicines that they have given me. These free drugs are saving the lives of mothers and their babies."

To donate, you can send a cheque or postal order to UNICEF Children of the Commonwealth Appeal, Freepost RTCU-SJSX-KCXA, UNICEF House, 30a Great Sutton Street, London, England, EC1V 0DU, call 0800 044 5777, visit unicef.org.uk/herald or text 'CHILD' to 70111 to give £3.

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Families

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