Ministry of Health officials and experts have called for understanding of the value of breastfeeding, as Cambodian women turn away from the practice at a concerning rate.

The call was made on June 24 during the launch of lactation rooms at the Keme Garment (Cambodia) Co Ltd and JIA Garment Co Ltd factories, the first two in Kampot to have them. The areas were organised by Helen Keller International and GIZ-MUSEFO.

Health ministry secretary of state Prak Sophonneary, who attended the launch, encouraged workers to see the huge intrinsic value of breastfeeding for mother and child.

“I appeal to all workers to consider the value of breastfeeding our kids, because we know clearly that you all really want your children to be smart, have a good brain and good health, to be clever, without illness, strong and beautiful. All of these qualities can be achieved by just practising breastfeeding,” she said.

According to the 2022 health surveillance and population report, an estimated 65 per cent of mothers were breastfeeding in 2014, compared to 51 per cent this year.

“There is no study on why there is a huge drop in breastfeeding, but there are several factors, such as 76 per cent of women being formally employed and forced to give up breastfeeding to return to their normal jobs,” Sophonneary said.

She also attributed the decline to a lack of support from family, relatives, employers and relevant institutions, and the prevailing attitude that breastfeeding is solely the responsibility of women.

She also blamed baby formula advertisements that convey the message that their product is for the modern-age baby, and downplay the merits of breastfeeding.

Helen Keller International deputy country director Hou Kroeun said that nutrition promotion and breastfeeding at factory and manufacturing enterprises provides ample benefits for employees and employers alike, such as reducing spending and work absence as well as increasing productivity.

Keme Garment Cambodia representative Charles Li thanked Helen Keller and GIZ-MUSEFO for technical support and the provision of materials needed to set up the lactation rooms at the two factories, as part of a pilot project – “Workplace Nutrition, Infant and Young Child Feeding Support Project”.

He said his factory employs 2,243 workers, 1,883 of them women, and 57 of them pregnant.

Li admitted that his factory previously had lactation facilities, but was underequipped to fulfil the needs of breastfeeding workers. He also claimed that the workers at the time lacked understanding of issues relating to breastfeeding, healthy diets and nutrition.

But since May 2022, a team at the factory worked with Helen Keller International on breastfeeding and nutrition matters, and on setting up the lactation facilities which were completed early this month.

He said the lactation room is well-decorated, and well-stocked with lactation equipment and materials that are up to standards.

“I’m also impressed with how well-decorated the lactation room is, with pictures and attractive flowers that can make mothers feel fresh for breastfeeding, and also with nice tables, convenient chairs, cabinets, IEC [information, education and communication] materials, registration books, boilers, refrigerators, breast pumps, sinks, handwashing soap, and other materials,” Li said.

He added that lactating mothers with children at home could use the room’s breast pumps and store their milk in storage bags to keep in the refrigerator.