The Red Cross Health Center in Phnom Penh, Svay Rieng provincial hospital and Stung Treng provincial hospital were awarded “Baby Friendly” status by the Ministry of Health on Monday.
They received this award for their efforts to promote breastfeeding among new mothers, said Koum Kanal, director of the National Maternal and Child Health Center.
“It’s an award of accreditation for not promoting formula,” he said. “They advocate breastfeeding as long as possible.”
The award was announced on Monday to mark World Breastfeeding Week, held in more than 120 countries this week, as part of the ministry’s program to curb child mortality in the country.
This week’s activities in Cambodia include a media campaign developed by the ministry and launched on Monday, which focuses on the importance of breastfeeding in children six months and younger, Koum Kanal said.
The media campaign includes radio and television announcements sponsored by the UN Children’s Fund, as well as a roundtable discussion on TVK during which Ministry and hospital representatives will discuss breastfeeding, said Thazin Oo, head of the Unicef Health and Nutrition Program.
The campaign will culminate on Sunday in the broadcast of a concert on CTN, with singers and comedians promoting breastfeeding, she said. The live concert will be air on Sunday at 6:30 pm.
In a country with an infant mortality rate of 95 per 1000, exclusive and proper breastfeeding is key for mothers to prevent malnutrition in their children, Koum Kanal said.
A child breastfed within the first hour of delivery is more likely to adapt to the mother’s breast, he said, calling the milk a child’s “first drug” due to its high concentration of colostrum.
Colostrum is the condensed, yellow liquid that is only present in breast milk for three days after childbirth. The liquid is filled with antibodies that make breastfed children stronger than those fed on formula, said Koum Kanal.
Mothers often do not view colostrum as a valuable source of calories and nutrition, he said. Even a mother who does breastfeed, will often wait until the colostrum is no longer visible before suckling a baby.
Healthy infants should exclusively feed on breast milk from birth until six months old, when other foods can then be given in addition to mother’s milk, said Koum Kanal.
“Normally six months on breast milk is enough—why do we need to add [anything]? It is not necessary and sometimes can be harmful,” he said.
But only 11 percent of women in Cambodia breastfeed in the first hour after childbirth, and only 11.4 percent exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, according to the most recent Cambodian Demographic and Health Survey.
“Some mothers are not satisfied with the milk,” said Koum Kanal, adding that many women think that their breasts are too small to provide enough milk for their children.
As a result many supplement their child’s diet with water or formula, which can expose children to diarrhea and malnutrition, two common causes of death in Cambodian infants, Koum Kanal said.
A child might feel full when water or formula is added to their diet, but neither of these provides as much nutritional value as a mother’s milk, and children often develop allergic reactions to formula, he added.
“Some water is not hygienic, especially in rural areas, and can cause diarrhea, a common cause of morbidity in children,” Koum Kanal said.
Changing mothers’ behavior and attitudes toward breastfeeding is key to a reduced infant mortality rate, he added.
Held in Cambodia for the fifth year, the weeklong campaign is also sponsored by the Infant and Young Child Feeding Technical Working Group, a conglomerate of representatives from the World Health Organization, Unicef and NGOs, according to a statement from the National Maternal and Child Health Center.
“This Breastfeeding Week in Cambodia is the biggest yet,” said Thazin Oo. “Last year we did a lot,” she said, “and this year we’re doing more.”