In a letter marking the sixth National Nutrition Day, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on mothers and the relevant ministries to pay greater attention to breastfeeding.
Held on Wednesday, National Nutrition Day has been organised under the theme Breastfeeding is the best choice for the development of human resources and the nation’s economy.
The Ministry of Planning’s 2014 Demography and Health Survey revealed that the number of breastfed infants below the age of six months slipped from 73.5 per cent in 2010 to 65 per cent in 2014.
“The reasons for this can be a lack of knowledge on 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 wrote.
The letter ordered the relevant institutions to raise the public’s awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding by encouraging mothers to do so an hour after delivery, and by encouraging them to exclusively feed their children breast milk for the first six months of their lives.
Hun Sen said: “Nutrition is an intersectoral problem that requires good collaboration, coordination and attentive participation in its intervention and investment in various sectors such as health, education, work, agriculture, rural development, clean drinking water and hygiene, gender participation, the economy and social protection”.
Unicef Cambodia communication specialist Meas Bunly agreed that the public needed to become better aware of the benefits of breast milk when compared to alternative products.
He called for longer maternity leave and restrictions on milk products and advertisements promoting them, because of concerns that mothers were abandoning the age-old practice.
“If we see the trend steepen even more, it will seriously harm children’s health and development. Breast milk is the first preventative medicine and the best diet for babies since it is proven to be far more nutritious and helps in brain development.
“Mothers also reap benefit from breastfeeding such as reduced tension, breast cancer prevention and improved immune systems to help protect against diseases,” he told The Post.
The annual National Nutrition Day is held each year to educate and promote awareness of good nutrition to improve health, reduce malnutrition, boost workplace efficiency and further develop the economy.
The Council for Agriculture and Rural Development, Unicef and the World Food Programme in 2013 reported that malnutrition represented a burden to the Cambodian national economy of more than $266 million annually.
More than 60 per cent of Cambodian children between one and two years old and about 80 per cent of six- to eight-month-olds suffer malnutrition as a result of not receiving the minimum acceptable diet, the Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey 2014 said.