Child mortality rate in Cambodia has improved dramatically in recent years – dropping from 124 per 1000 live births in 2000 to 54 in 2010.
But the government and local NGOs are still concerned about mothers prefering bottle feeding to breastfeeding.
Babies aged between six months and two years are at the greatest risk of death, and poor growth during this early period is irreversible in later life.
Despite campaigns educating about the advantages of breastfeeding, many modern mothers like to bottle-feed. They believe it is easier, more modern and less damaging to their beauty.
Phai Sreylin, 25, a seller in Banteay Meanchey province, has fed her two year-old twins with bottles ever since they were born.
“Public breastfeeding is not good. When the mothers are sick, the babies will be sick too. When mothers do not eat enough food, babies will lack nutrition,” she said.
Bon Sokim, 23, will soon become a mother. “I cannot avoid using powder milk since I can’t stand with my daughter all the time and I have to work, but I will breastfeed for the first 6 months,” she said.
Another mother-to-be, Chan Raksmey, 24, admitted that, despite recognising the advantages of breastfeeding, she will bottle-feed her child because she also has to work.
The National Maternal and Child Health Centre at the Ministry of Health is trying to encourage every mother to breastfeed for at least the first six months of their child’s life.
“Around 70 per cent of women breast-feed their children. We educate through conferences and hosting discussions with the public health office and various organizations, but we see that understanding is still limited,” said Ms. Dr. Prak Sophorneary, deputy director at the centre.
The Ministry of Health and partner organizations have been trying to advertise and educate through a breastfeeding program and have banned the sale of powdered milk in hospitals, she added.
HIV and other serious infectious diseases can be transmitted via breast milk. However, if the mother is on HIV treatment drugs the risk of an infection is extremely low.
“The chance of mothers who are HIV positive passing on the disease to children is 15 per cent. But if they take ARVs (antriretroviral drugs) it drops to 1.1 per cent.”
Some women refuse to breastfeed because they are worried about the appearance of their breasts.
Bun Sreynat, a hairdresser in Phnom Penh, said: “I have a friend who has just become a mother, but she does not use her breasts to feed her child because she just had breast surgery and is afraid of losing her beauty.”
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is trying to educate women about breastfeeding.
Mr Tan Try, communications officer at UNICEF, says that programs by NGOs and the health department have helped increase the percentage of women who breastfeed to more than 50 per cent.
Despite some breastfeeding-related risks like diarrhea, breastfeeding is still the best choice for any mother, because they can save money and make their babies healthy and grow properly, he added.
The Cambodian Red Cross celebrates an annual World Breastfeeding day on the 7th August every year, to help educate about the importance of breastfeeding.