Feature: Vietnam launches campaign to promote breastfeeding
by Le Phuong
HO CHI MINH CITY, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- Vietnam has launched here and in other big cities across the country a week-long campaign this month to encourage breastfeeding among Vietnamese mothers as statistics show that the number of newly-born babies being breastfed has decreased in recent years.
The campaign, with the theme, "Mother's Breast Milk A Valuable Gift to Life", was organized in support of the World Alliance Breastfeeding Action (WABA) which, since 1991, has held breastfeeding events in the first week of August every year with participation of more than 170 countries, including Vietnam.
Currently Vietnam ranks third among the Asia-Pacific countries that have the lowest rate of breastfed babies in the first six months of their life with less than 20 percent, according to the alliance.
A survey by the Vietnam Institute of Nutrition showed that in 2010, 62 percent of Vietnamese babies were breastfed in the first hour after their birth, and 19.6 percent of mothers fed their babies totally with breast milk in the first six months. The rates have decreased in recent years, to around 55 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Xinhua reporters conducted random surveys at some pediatric hospitals in HCM City and in capital Hanoi, and the results showed that one out of three pregnant women who gave birth in hospitals brought along a formula milk can, saying she would feed her newly- born baby in case she had little breast milk.
Also, about half of the respondents said they did not know much about breastfeeding.
Local doctors attributed the reasons for the decrease in the number of mothers breastfeeding their babies to their desire to return to work shortly after childbirth. Another reason could be the massive advertisements in the various mass media about the benefits of milk products for infants.
According to Netmat Hajeebhoy, Director of Nutrition and Development Project in Vietnam, the amount of powdered milk consumed in Vietnam had increased 17 percent year on year.
In particular, milk producers and traders had spent more than 10 million U.S. dollars per year for advertising their products, which led to a decrease in breastfeeding rate in Vietnam, from 34 percent in 1998 to about 19 percent in late 2013.
Dr. Nguyen Cong Khan, head of the Vietnam National Nutrition Institute, said that those ads have made many parents switch to using powdered milk products for their babies even if this would cost them a lot of money.
Le Thi Minh, a 30-year-old marketing officer for a private media company in HCM City, told Xinhua that she gave birth to a 3. 4 kg son two months ago, and she is feeding him with bottle milk.
"My first daughter, born in 3.3 kg, was totally breastfed, but she was so skinny, weighing only 7 kg when she was six months old. That's why I change my feeding of my son this time," Minh said, adding that her baby got nearly 2 kg more after two months old.
She also said that she spent monthly around 3 million VND (150 U.S.dollars) to buy formula milk for her son, and another 2 million VND(100 U.S. dollars) to buy milk products for her 4-year- old daughter.
According to Dr. Do Thi Ngoc Diep, Director of Ho Chi Minh City Nutrition Center, the newly-born babies should be fed with mother' s milk within the first hour and after birth for the next first six months, without being fed with water, milk powder or supplement food. The more the babies suckle the mothers, the more milk the mothers can produce.
Breastfeeding should be continued until the babies are 24 months old, said the doctor, adding that breast milk is complete with nutrition supplements that are essential to a child's development.
Statistics from major medical institutions and hospitals in Vietnam showed that breastfed babies are less contaminated by respiratory and digestive diseases compared to those bottle-fed babies.
Also, they have better educational quotient (EQ), less infected with malnutrition or obesity, and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma when growing up.
Vietnam has participated in the World Alliance Breastfeeding Action (WABA) since 1992, but so far has achieved inconsiderable results.
However, since May 2013, Vietnam has extended the maternal leave for women, from four to six months. Along with this, the law on advertisements has prohibited all advertisements of formula milk for the under-24-month-old babies, as well as nutrition supplements for the under-six-month-old babies. Those efforts are aimed at raising the rate of breastfeeding for newly-born babies.
"Vietnam becomes the first nation in the western Pacific region to prohibit advertisements of powdered milk for under-two-year-old kids. This is significant in terms of protecting the mothers' breastfeeding and the consumers against profit-oriented milk producers and traders," said Ornella Lincetto, team leader for Maternal and Child Health of the World Health Organization.