The Ministry of Health and nutritional institutions have expressed concern about a decline in breastfeeding that corresponds to an increase in the number of women in formal employment, and urged companies to establish more facilities for breastfeeding mothers.

Ministry secretary of state Prak Sophorn Neary expressed the concern on May 3 at the opening ceremony of a breastfeeding room at the Tan Bien Rubber Factory in Kampong Thom province – the first factory in Cambodia to establish such a facility.

Sophorn Neary said the Cambodian government was committed to increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding - where the infant receives only breast milk - for babies from zero to six months to 85 per cent by 2030.

The 2014 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey showed that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Cambodia had declined “worryingly” from 74 per cent in 2010 to 65 per cent, with a sharp decline in urban areas from 64 to 34 per cent.

“This is a growing concern for all institutions working on nutrition in Cambodia, as 76 per cent of women in the country were employed in the formal employment system,” she said. “If there is no suitable solution to promote breastfeeding for women in the workplace, especially in the factories and enterprises, then the rate of breastfeeding will continue to decline.”

Sophorn Neary said that creating an appropriate environment, such as through setting up a breastfeeding room with adequate equipment and providing breaks for breastfeeding will enable women to feel recognised at work, and improve the health of their babies and themselves. It would also reduce staff absences and staff health insurance costs.

Sanne Sigh, representative for the MUSEFO Project of Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) – the German agency for international development – said the workplace has become an important player in the nutrition and health of mothers and children, and of employees in general.

“However, we need leaders to begin to [demonstrate] the importance of supporting women … The breastfeeding room not only benefits female staff or mothers, but also provides health and development for children,” she said.

Hou Kroeun, deputy country director of the NGO Helen Keller International Cambodia, said his organisation has been implementing a pilot project to improve nutrition and infant and child feeding in factories, enterprises and workplaces in 27 target locations.

“This is the first pilot project in Cambodia that has established standard, well-equipped and comfortable breastfeeding rooms for breastfeeding women,” he said, adding that this project will contribute significantly to increasing the rate of breastfeeding, among the more than 370,000 breastfeeding mothers in Cambodia.

Chan Phalkun had switched from formula feeding to breastfeeding after her eldest son suffered from poor health due to the use of poor quality formula.

She told The Post that she noted the growth of her two children was completely different, despite them being healthy when they were born.

“[The benefits of] breastfeeding are real. My children are healthy, grow fast and look plump. In addition, their digestion has normalised. It is very different from formula feeding, which is risky for babies. My son was a victim of substandard milk powder and fell seriously ill. His growth is not as fast as [that of] a breastfed baby,” she said.

Phalkun said that after learning from the experience of raising a baby for the first time, she “can say that there is no product better than breast milk.”

“No matter how fast or slow the flow of breast milk, do not give up, keep encouraging yourself so that your baby is healthy and you do not have any regrets,” she said.

On May 4, senior officials from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the implementation of a pilot project to improve nutrition and infant and child feeding in factories and enterprises with Helen Keller and GIZ.

The MoU was co-signed by labour minister Ith Samheng, Helen Keller director Gwyneth Cotes and MUSEFO Project manager Farid Selmi, and will last for 15 months.

The project aims to establish technical cooperation frameworks between the organisations and labour ministry in line with the government’s rectangular strategy to promote the welfare of workers, productivity and the Cambodian economy.

It will focus on 18 factories consisting of 21,166 workers and provides training on the importance of promoting health, nutrition and feeding of infants and children for employers or their representatives, workers of reproductive age and pregnant and breastfeeding workers.

“This project will contribute significantly to the improvement of the health and hygiene of women and children. The labour ministry is developing its services and setting legal standards more effectively,” Samheng said.

He said he hopes the project will encourage employers to establish facilities for their workers and encourage them to take care of their hygiene and nutrition.