A new report released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) said despite efforts to prevent the unsafe substitution of breast milk with artificial products, countries continue to employ the practice.
“The Covid-19 pandemic highlights the need for stronger legislation to protect families from false claims about the safety of breast milk substitutes or aggressive marketing practices,” WHO and UNICEF said in a press release published on Wednesday.
“Breast milk saves children’s lives as it provides antibodies that give babies a healthy boost and protects them against many childhood illnesses.”
WHO and UNICEF encouraged mothers to maintain breastfeeding their babies during the Covid-19 pandemic, even if they are suspected to be infected with the disease.
The most current evidence shows it is unlikely that Covid-19 is transmitted through breastfeeding, they said.
“The numerous benefits of breastfeeding substantially outweigh the potential risks of illness associated with the virus. It is not safer to give infants formula milk,” it said.
Ministry of Health secretary of state and spokeswoman Or Vandine could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
However, the ministry said in a press release issued ahead of World Breastfeeding Week last year that breastfeeding during the first hour of a child’s birth can reduce the infant mortality rate by 20 per cent.
It also said that a child who receives breast milk in the first six months is 11 times less likely to suffer from diarrhoea and 15 times less likely to experience lung infections.
The Ministry of Planning’s 2014 Demography and Health Survey indicated that the number of breastfed infants below six months decreased from 73.5 per cent in 2010 to 65 per cent in 2014.
In a letter marking the sixth National Nutrition Day last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said: “The reasons for this can be attributed to a lack of knowledge about breastfeeding, the migration of mothers to find work, maternity leave being too short and particularly the growth of advertisements for [baby formula].
“It [advertising] confuses people regarding the merits of breastfeeding – no milk powder product can replace breastfeeding.”
Hun Sen called on those involved to firmly apply the 2005 sub-decree concerning infant and baby milk powder promotion and advertising.
On April 21, UNICEF Cambodia sent a message to Cambodian mothers on its official Facebook page saying those with Covid-19 can still breastfeed.
Breast milk provides the required nutritional needs of babies during their first six months of life. The baby does not need water during that time.
“For children above six months, continue breastfeeding but encourage them to drink and eat during illness and provide complimentary food after illness to help them recover quickly,” the UNICEF message said.