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Child spacing saves lives

However, as years roll on societal norms change. Urban residents tend to admire and import overseas cultures. In America, Europe and Asia urban families limit the number of children to two. In China the figure is one or none. But I know an American family that raised 14 children.

Nevertheless, there is no significant parenting difference among rural settings around the world. Some families in the rural world tend to favour large numbers of children. While studying in Russia in the mid-eighties I visited several rural families that had more than ten children each. And while on a brief working stint in the US in the early nineties I had an Indiana friend who came thirteenth in a family that was blessed with 14 children.

These days, however, it is no longer fashionable to maintain huge families -- the soaring cost of living militating against it. Today, I discuss the advantages of child spacing in relation to the health of children and their mothers. Every year some 515,000 women die from problems linked to pregnancy and childbirth in this country. Many of the deaths occur as a result of haphazard family planning. It is of paramount importance to delay the first pregnancy until a girl is at least 18 years old.

At this age the pregnancy and delivery are likely to be safer and may reduce the risk of the baby being born underweight. I have seen mothers aged 13 years in this country. This is outrageous! I must stress here that a girl is not physically ready to begin bearing children until she is 18 years of age. Childbirth is more likely to be difficult and dangerous for an adolescent than for an adult. Babies born to very young mothers are much more likely to die in the first year of life. Paediatricians determine that the younger the mother, the greater the risk to herself and her baby.

Unfortunately, not many women know the risks involved in childbearing. Young women and their families should be given information about the risks of early pregnancy and how to avoid them. It is also imperative for me to mention here that after the age of 35, the health risks of pregnancy and childbirth begin to increase again. If a woman is over the age of 35 and has had four or more pregnancies, another pregnancy is a serious risk to her own health and that of the foetus. Of course, this fact is arguable.

We have seen women aged over 50 bearing children. The truth is that pregnancy is possible so long as menopause (the ceasing of menstruation) has not ensued yet. In most women menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 50, but anomalies are possible. Parents should know that the risk of death for young children increases by nearly 50 per cent if the space between births is less than two years. One of the greatest threats to the health and growth of a child under the age of two years is the birth of a new baby.

This is, indeed, catastrophic. Breast-feeding for the older child stops too soon and the pregnant mother now has less time to prepare the special food her young child needs. She may even fail to give the child the care and attention he or she needs. So the child remains neglected or even abandoned. As a result, children born less than two years apart usually do not develop properly -- physically or mentally. A woman’s body needs two years to recover fully from pregnancy and childbirth.

The risk to the mother’s health is therefore greater if births come too close together. The mother needs time to get her health, nutritional status and energy back before she becomes pregnant again. If a woman becomes pregnant before she is fully recovered from a previous pregnancy, there is a higher chance that her new baby will be born too early and weigh much less. Babies born underweight are less likely to grow well and are more likely to become ill.

In fact, according to paediatricians, they are four times more likely to die in the first year of life than babies of normal weight. A woman’s body can easily become exhausted by repeated pregnancies. After four pregnancies, especially if there has been less than two years between births, she faces an increased risk of serious health problems such as anaemia (thin blood) and haemorrhage (heavy loss of blood). A baby is at greater risk of dying if the mother has had four or more pregnancies. At this juncture, it would be remiss on my part not to repeat here that it is no longer fashionable to raise large families.

Parents should not treat themselves as baby factories. It is not easy any more to raise large families in the light of the continually rising cost of living. It is also expensive to offer many children good quality education and medication. Higher education and good medication are expensive. It is also difficult to observe children’s basic rights fully when the family is large. Children have basic rights that must be respected and fulfilled. Parents should also know that baby-boys and baby-girls have similar physical, mental, emotional, nutritional and social needs. Both have the same capacity for learning.

And both have the same needs for affection, attention and approval. Some communities think baby-girls are inferior. It is also imperative to mention here that physical punishment or displays of violence can impair the child’s development. Children who are punished in anger are more likely to become violent themselves. Clear explanation about what to do and firm rules about what not to do should suffice. I am often disappointed by the cruelty some parents display on their children. Too much scolding and lashes of the cane impair children’s development. Some ruthless mothers even nip their young infants in anger for crying.

This is arrant injustice. Children cry to express their feelings. Older children need encouragement and should be praised and even rewarded for good behaviour. This is an effective way of grooming children into achieving their full potential. Behavioral problems during adulthood often stem from bad upbringing. I wish everyone good parenting.

spmwita@yahoo.com

A  tribute  to  the  late  Former  ...

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Author: SOSTHENES PAULO MWITA

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