On November 6, Cambodia celebrated National Nutrition Day. The day is marked in order to educate and raise public awareness across the country about the importance of food security and nutrition.World Vision Cambodia is one of the international NGOs that specialises in this area.

The Post spoke with Grana Pu Selvi, nutrition specialist at World Vision Cambodia, about the organisation’s mission to promote breastfeeding as an essential cornerstone of children’s development.

What has World Vision been doing to promote breastfeeding in Cambodia?

In close co-ordination with provincial and district health departments, World Vision has been training Health Centre staff and community workers from village health support groups to promote breastfeeding in 10 provinces.

In addition, at the country level, World Vision actively engages with the Scaling Up Nutrition – Civil Society Alliance to encourage policies and programmes for the promotion of breastfeeding in Cambodia.

World Vision also piloted an online reporting system to report the violations of the restrictions on advertising breast milk substitutes like baby formula that undermines breastfeeding in the country.

Through funding from MOFA Japan, World Vision has been organizing an annual event at Preah Vihear province in four districts and one town since 2020 that invites 50-100 participants from each district from all levels of local authorities from province to village as well as caregivers, including fathers, not only to share with them the benefits of breastfeeding in general but also to avoid any possible misunderstandings among the participants by having a questions and answer session and quiz.

What is World Vision’s programme this year for promoting nutrition?

In 2022, with the theme “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support”, the organisation emphasized that breastfeeding mothers need to be supported to breastfeed their newborns immediately after delivery, exclusively breastfeed the child with breast milk for the first six months, and to continue breastfeeding with complementary foods until the child reaches two years of age at least.

Since the mothers need the support of their family members to breastfeed their children right from birth until their child is two years of age, each of the family members needs to permit her the time to breastfeed and allow her to work flexibly to suit the breastfeeding needs of her young child. World Vision has been educating the family members of pregnant women and households with young children to provide the support needed for the mothers to continue breastfeeding.

In addition, World Vision had promoted awareness through Facebook on the benefits of breastfeeding during world breastfeeding month this year.

What is the current status of breastfeeding here?

Despite impressive achievements in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the percentage of children in Cambodia exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives decreased from 74 per cent in 2010 to 51 per cent in 2021.

There has been an increasing percentage of households switching to breast milk substitutes instead of breast milk, since 80 per cent of women in Cambodia are economically active, one of the highest rates in the world, with more than 600,000 jobs in the garment industry alone held by women.

Since these young mothers are often ignorant about the benefits of breastfeeding, there is an increasing percentage of women preferring formula feeding for their children.

What can be done to encourage breastfeeding over the use of formula?

There is a need to educate pregnant women, young mothers and their family members on the benefits of breastfeeding. In addition, there is a need to build the capacity of the health care providers especially the nurses and doctors who provide care during pregnancy and after delivery, to encourage the mothers to provide breast milk.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

According to the World Health Organisation, breast milk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breast milk provides all of the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year and up to one third during the second year of life.

Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Considering the benefits both for the mother and child, it is important to support mothers in breastfeeding.

What are World Vision’s recommendations for promoting breastfeeding in Cambodia?

To increase the number of children who are healthy and well-nourished, we need more commitment from everyone. There is a need to create awareness of breastfeeding among pregnant women, mothers and family members.

They should be protected from the advertisements and false claims made by the infant formula companies in line with sub-decree 133 that restricts the promotion of breast milk substitutes marketed for children of less than two years of age.

There is a shared responsibility, which starts with the mothers, family members, friends, relatives, employers, policy makers and government departments to protect and promote breastfeeding in Cambodia.