World Vision International (Cambodia) has announced the results of its study indicating that a failure to properly implement recommended steps leads to a reduction in the duration of breastfeeding.

The findings come after the organisation conducted a brief study in August and September 2022 at 10 health centres, including those in its target areas such as Kampong Chhnang, Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap provinces.

It said the study meant to examine the shortcomings and barriers to promotion and support for breastfeeding at the health centre level and was also part of gathering evidence about the process of providing breastfeeding services at the local level.

According to the breastfeeding practice estimates report at the health centre level released on November 29, barriers to breastfeeding can be addressed by strengthening capacity, providing support and setting goals for educating health workers.

The study also found that abusive advertisements by private businesses have encouraged mothers to intentionally or unintentionally use breast milk substitute products during antenatal care at the postpartum health centres.

“New employees at health centres are vulnerable to breast milk substitute companies and some midwives may violate Sub-Decree No 13. Although the sub-decree explicitly prohibits promotion of substitutes, it is not enforced correctly. New mothers have reportedly received phone calls from advertisers selling dairy products,” the report said.

“When we go down to estimate, we see the presence of manuals, policies or strategies and many other documents. However, there was a shortage of materials for breastfeeding counselling,” said Munint Mak, a senior technical specialist for health and nutrition at World Vision Cambodia.

“We found that the absence of screening mechanisms and measures to correct breastfeeding indicators required a series of staff training, focusing on reminding them about the basics of breastfeeding,” he said.

World Vision Cambodia and the National Maternal and Child Health Centre (NMCHC) earlier this week announced the launch of “Baby-Friendly Health Centre” – a pilot one-year programme aimed at promoting breastfeeding and treatment of acute malnutrition – at eight health centres in Siem Reap.

The programme is in line with the operational guidelines for the UN’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), which include staff capacity building, prenatal care, helping mothers to start breastfeeding in the first hours after birth, providing food or other fluids to add with breast milk, keeping the baby in the room with the mother 24 hours a day, among others.

The global BFHI were established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF in 1991, and Cambodia officially launched the programme in 2004. It is meant to ensure that mothers and newborns engage in breastfeeding in a timely and appropriate manner because it is best for promoting the newborn’s health and development.

The exclusive breastfeeding rate for infants 6 months old and younger was up to 74 per cent in 2010, but later dropped to 51 per cent in 2021 due to the prevalence of businesses selling and advertising infant formula with claims that it was superior to breastfeeding.