A month into giving birth to her fourth son, 29-year-old Shewaye Desalegn longs for the caress and attention of her mother, who provided three months-long postpartum care when she brought the other children into the world.

The conflict in Amhara Regional State has prevented her mother from making the 500KM journey from the Wollo area, placing the responsibilities on her husband who has limited awareness of the needs. Although he tried to assist with cleaning, cooking and nursing, his efforts could not bring Shewaye satisfaction.

"His lack of experience is evident," she said.

A dawning business sector over the past year seeks to seal the gap by providing nurturing services to new mothers deprived of a caretaker. Hasna Endris launched the Aras Package five months ago after a lonely postpartum period spent following delivery in the United States.

Spawned by the loneliness felt in the period, the service has already garnered attention, managing to provide its services to 10 households since its launch.

"We started out real slow," said Fatuma Abdu, manager of Aras.

Initially launched to provide caretakers who assist in homecare with basic cleaning and nursing services, it has now expanded to a rich four-package deal which incorporates a menu of meals tailored for post-natal care.

With prices ranging from 29,500 Br to 56,000 Br, the top tier 40-day package entails 35Kg of flour used for porridge and hot beverages (atmit), snacks, four rounds of traditional steam and a day of sauna bath while some mothers require special curtains.

"We customise the packages for each client," Fatuma told Fortune.

While many prefer the attention of their mothers during the postnatal period, Aras's business slowly picked up through word of mouth. In hopes of getting more clients, Fautma expresses the company's desire to reach out past the capital despite few knowing such service exists.

Those weary of the customary culture of a mother nursing her daughter after birth seem to be welcoming the emerging business.

The 60-year-old grandmother, Bilchanesh Desalew, feels like half her lifetime was spent taking care of her daughter and grandchildren. She traversed all the way from Harari Regional State following the birth of her fourth grandchild two months ago.

Bilchanesh recalls the days when she had to prepare meals multiple times a day while barely getting enough sleep at night.

"It's an absolute burden," she told Fortune in exasperation.

Although the frequent demand and pulling an all-nighter had become tedious with age, she disclosed the task was draining even in her prime.

"I wish this to be the last time I have to do it," she said.

According to Macrotrends review the current birth rate for Ethiopia stands at 20.262 births per 1,000 people. While showing a 1.5pc decline from 2022, the figure is still high by international standards.

The postpartum period involves the first 12 hours with the potential for immediate crisis, the next few weeks while undergoing physical and emotional recuperation and up to six months before full recovery.

In the past year, 165,000 children have been delivered in the capital from 12 public hospitals and 101 healthcare facilities giving maternal-care services.

The Addis Abeba Health Bureau works through a technical consultation process and new guidelines which dictate that a new mother shall receive postnatal care inside the health facility for 24 hours which extends to 72 hours if a surgical process is involved.

"Strengthening postpartum care in health facilities is amongst our priorities," said Sindu Mekria, head of the Reproductive Maternal Nutrition & Child Health Directorate. She stresses the importance of ongoing follow-up for a new mother at least seven times.

Medical professionals point out the new businesses could be a relief to parents who have no caretaker by their side while a familiar environment is preferable for emotional support.

Ousman Hussien (MD), a gynaecology & obstetrics resident at Tikur Anbesa Hospital reiterates that new mothers who are through postpartum depression would have a better coping mechanism emotionally if they stayed around a familiar environment for a year after giving birth.

He indicates that the health status of caretakers is a crucial point to go over besides unburdening the mother from workload.

Experiencing highs and lows during birth in the first weeks are common symptoms for new mothers, according to the gynaecologist who emphasises the importance of continuous company of adults after giving birth.

"The emotional state of the mother should be evaluated before hiring a caretaker," he said.

Women who wish to take the burden off of their mothers embraced the emerging businesses.

Girum Tagelu had her third child with her mother by her side. Even though she is grateful for the emotional and physical support, Girum wishes to give her mother some space had she been aware of such service providers.

She said her mother does the constant cooking, answers the demands of a newborn and frequent health check-ups which have visibly taken a toll on her.

"I really feel bad," she said.

Girum raises the issue of affordability pointing to the importance of pricing for these businesses to grow. With plans to have more children in the next couple of years, the 33-year-old mother underscores these businesses significantly alleviate her concerns going ahead.

Realising the tight budget of households, affordable alternatives despite their short-lived span.

Companies like Ethio-Medicure Consulting have noted this blossoming demand and kicked off a postnatal care service dubbed Arash-Ende-Enat which translates to Care Like a Mother five months ago.

They provided packages ranging between 4,000 Br and 9,000 Br, which include a 50Kg flour for porridge and options for a permanent or temporary caretaker for 90 days.

A contract signed a few days prior to the onset of labour, which included a medically screened caretaker who could read, write and had received training, was the business format of the now-defunct company which has only provided service to two households.

Elsaday Lemma, the manager, said slow growth and financial difficulties forced her to close down last month due to difficulties settling payments for hired caretakers.

"We could only pay them on a commission basis," she said.

Elshaday expects to pool funds and rebound soon, hoping to re-evaluate the standing by incorporating a new business model.

Experts forecast the potential of the business while indicating the importance of promotion and utilising digital media in an emerging market.

Yoseph Getachew, a finance and investment consultant, underscores the role of financial literacy and networks for a growing business. He argued that most startups take hints of business ideas without adequately addressing the needs of their clients.

"Businesses that take off based on presumptions rather than evidentiary appraisals are bound for failure," he said.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 23,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1221]

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