UN agencies and civil society organisations have called for increased public education about the importance of breastfeeding, in a bid to dispel myths and misconceptions and provide mothers with accurate information on how to breastfeed their babies.

A joint September 21 press release – from World Vision International Cambodia (WVI-C), UNICEF, World Health Organisation (WHO), Alive & Thrive (A&T/FHI360), Helen Keller International, Plan International Cambodia and the Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance (SUN-CSA) – explained that the organisations collaborated to conduct a journalism campaign under the theme “Enabling Breastfeeding: Making a Difference for Working Parents”.

The competition was designed to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week 2023, which will run from October 1 to 7.

“This campaign was convened with several specific objectives, including: positively influencing policies related to promoting breastfeeding, increasing awareness of the challenges faced by mothers in Cambodia who intend to exclusively breastfeed their child for their first six months of life and wish to continue breastfeeding for longer, and providing feasible solutions that working mothers can adopt to overcome challenges and barriers to breastfeeding,” said the statement.

WVI-C programme quality director Kirsty Milev explained that the importance of the media in promoting breastfeeding and informing policymaking in Cambodia cannot be overstated. News coverage can help raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding and the need for policies and programmes to support breastfeeding.

“This work can also help dispel myths and misconceptions,” she said.

Will Parks, UNICEF Cambodia representative, said that as they marked this occasion, they also reaffirmed their commitment to creating a supportive environment that enables mothers to breastfeed in all settings, from the home and the workplace.

“This is how we can ensure that every child gets the best start in life,” he added.

“I am proud to celebrate the achievements of the journalists who participated. We have shown how the media can be a powerful force for good in raising awareness of and advocating for breastfeeding practices that benefit both mothers and children,” he added.

According to WHO and UNICEF, breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways of preventing malnutrition and ensuring children’s healthy development.

“Breast milk is an easily digestible source of all of the necessary nutrients and antibodies that babies need to thrive, and is crucial to a baby’s well-being. It also provides health benefits for mothers, including a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The press release added that despite these benefits and many recommendations, the percentage of Cambodian infants who are exclusively breastfed over their first six months of life has decreased over the past decade, dropping from 74 per cent in 2010 to 65 per cent in 2014, and further down to just 50 per cent in 2021-2022.

Prak Sophonneary, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Health, agreed that breastfeeding is critical for the health and well-being of children and mothers. Family members were important drivers in supporting and encouraging mothers to breastfeed.

“Mothers who return to work can continue to breastfeed their babies by expressing their breast milk or the establishment of lactation rooms in their workplaces. It is important that workplaces provide equitable conditions for working mothers to breastfeed their children, in order to ensure the babies are healthy and free from malnutrition,” he added.

Plan International Cambodia’s deputy country director Yi Kimthan highlighted the crucial role played by the media – both traditional and social – in fostering increased breastfeeding through raising awareness, educating the public, normalising it, portraying role models and advocating for supportive policies.

“I encourage the media to continue promoting exclusive and longer breastfeeding, especially among working parents in Cambodia,” he added.

Hou Kroeun, deputy country director of Helen Keller International Cambodia, said breastfeeding is not just a personal choice, explaining that that a society has a collective responsibility to support working parents and ensure a healthy start for their children.

“By providing enabling environments and advocating for supportive policies, we can empower working parents to make breastfeeding a shared reality in their lives. Through this journalism campaign, we hope to amplify the voices and stories that highlight the positive impact of breastfeeding on both working parents and their children,” he added.