The government and civil society organisations are urging mothers to choose breast milk over formula as the number of mothers who breastfeed their newborns continues to fall. They note that the practice benefits the health of both mother and child.
Siem Reap city, Siem Reap province – Chhiv Socheata, a first-time mother from Phnom Penh, recently travelled to Siem Reap province to speak at an event aimed at encouraging mothers to breastfeed their newborns.
At the World Breastfeeding Week Celebration event held in the province’s Siem Reap city last month, Ms Socheata shared her own experience of breastfeeding her one-year-old son.
In her speech, the 28-year-old said that she chose to breastfeed her son exclusively for the first six months without any hesitation.
Ms Socheata said that it is her obligation as a mother, adding that she does not mind that breastfeeding takes more time to do.
She added that breastfeeding has kept her son healthier, noting that while babies in her neighbourhood were getting sick, her son remained in good health.
Ms Socheata said she went on maternity leave for three months after giving birth, which allowed her to take care of her newborn full-time, along with the help of her family.
“It was easy for me to feed my son during the first three months after his birth because I was at home and was supported by my husband and also my relatives,” she said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Ms Socheata explained that time became more of an issue after she returned to work.
“I do appreciate the government for providing three months for every mother, which enable mothers to feed their babies,” she said. “However, it will be better if mothers can have more time to care for the children, if only the government could provide a longer maternity leave, more than three months.”
After coming back to work, she said that her company encouraged her to continue to care for her baby, which was made easier with the availability of a baby centre at the office. She said she was able to continue to breastfeed her son for the next three months.
Gwyneth Cotes, Helen Keller International Cambodia country director, explained at the event that breastfeeding practices would prevent more than 800,000 child deaths worldwide every year.
She added that breastfeeding also prevents breast cancer in women and contributes to better growth and development, among other benefits.
“To be able to successfully breastfeed, mothers need support and encouragement from their families, friends, and communities,” Ms Cotes said.
She added that mothers need clear and accurate information from healthcare providers and the media, including supportive work and home environments so that women have enough time and energy to breastfeed.
Ms Cotes noted that infant formula and other breast milk substitutes are aggressively marketed in both rural and urban areas in Cambodia, leading to many mothers believing that infant formula is better for their babies than their own breast milk.
She added that the practice also erodes mothers’ confidence in their abilities to breastfeed their children.
Speaking at the same event, Health Minister Mam Bun Heng emphasised on the importance of breastfeeding, noting that breastfeeding within the first hour after giving birth can reduce the risk in the death of a newborn by 20 percent.
“Lack of breastfeeding can seriously impact a child’s mental and emotional development,” Mr Bun Heng said. “Not only do children who were not breastfed have smaller brains, but they also lose about 2.6 points of intelligence quotient, or IQ, compared to those who were breastfed.”
He added that exclusively breastfeeding a baby for the first six months can also reduce health risks, including preventing diarrhoea by 11 percent and bronchitis by 15 percent.
Mr Bun Heng noted that the number of mothers breastfeeding their children for at least six months has decreased from 73.5 percent in 2010 to 64.6 percent in 2014, adding that the number of mothers who breastfeed their children immediately after giving birth fell from 65.3 percent to 62.6 percent, while the number of mothers breastfeeding for 12 months dropped to 80 percent from 83 percent.
He said that the number of babies being fed formula continues to rise, noting that the number rose from 11.8 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2014, especially in the capital.
According to a World Vision and Helen Keller International report in 2018, 98 percent of formula products sold did not have a label in Khmer, 72 percent did not have a statement indicating the total cost of feeding an infant with formula for the first six months, and 63 percent did not include a statement saying that cup feeding is more hygienic than bottle-feeding, all contradicting sub-decree No. 133.
Sub-decree No.133 on the Marketing of Products for Infant and Young Child feeding was issued in 2005 to protect and promote breastfeeding.
It outlaws the promotion of breast milk substitutes for children under two years, as instant formulas cannot replicate the benefits of breast milk.
However, the law remains poorly enforced with continued practice of commercial misinformation by companies, as well as the promotion of the products in shops and health facilities.
Talking to the media on the sidelines of the event, Mr Bun Heng said the government continues to monitor the implementation of the sub-decree, including by implementing sanctions against those found committing any violation.
“The sub-decree No. 133 was created because we want to encourage mothers to breastfeed, and so far some companies that do not follow the sub-decree have been fined about $500,” Mr Bun Heng said.
He also noted that nurses at hospitals and health centres who secretly promote baby formula will be punished by being relocated or even being suspended from work.
“We have recommended to some companies to create a baby centre so that it can be easier for mothers to breastfeed their baby,” he says.
Mr Bun Heng noted that the government has not considered amending the maternity law as yet, and instead emphasized on the importance of implementing existing laws to improve current conditions.
“We have to practice what we have first,” he says.
Hou Kroeun, Helen Keller International’s deputy country director, in a recent phone interview said that mothers can breastfeed their newborns even within the first hour of giving birth, noting that the body is generally immediately ready to produce breast milk.
He noted that newborn babies only need a very small amount of breast milk within the first few days, since a baby’s stomach is still developing.
Mr Kroeun added that along the way, a mother can also pump and store her breast milk to save time, especially those who go back to work once her maternity leave ends.
He noted that mothers can also directly breastfeed their babies after work to ensure that breast milk continues to be available and come out without any problems. He says the practice can also improve the bond between the mother and the baby.
“Breast milk can be pumped and then kept for eight hours in room temperature and 48 hours in the refrigerator,” he said. “It won’t go bad.”
- Tags: Breastfeeding