Breastmilk is the source for healthy nations

Ms Ien is Phunoï and 21 years old. She lives in Ngapoung village, Phongsaly district, with her husband’s family composed of five people including her two children.

Their main activity is tea leaves collection and selling. “Because collecting tea leaves takes a lot of time, for my first child I gave him rice and powdered milk when he was three month-old. But the facilitator from the EU-funded SCALING project explained what to do for pregnant women and their babies. Now I’ve got a second child and he is nine months old. I continue breastfeeding and give some other food. I see he is growing very well and has good health”.

The Sustainable Change Achieved through Linking Improved Nutrition and Governance (SCALING) project aims to improve food and nutrition security in 420 villages in 14 districts in Huaphan, Luang Namtha, Luang Prabang and Phongsaly provinces in North Laos with a special focus on adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and children under 5 years old.

Breastfeeding is a natural preventive tool and protective barrier against many infectious and non-communicable diseases in both mothers and infants.

It decreases the risk of diarrhoea, respiratory diseases, middle ear infections, leukaemia and asthma among children, and contributes to the strengthening of immune systems through antibodies in the breast milk.

Breastfeeding is vital to a child’s lifelong health, and reduces costs for health systems, families, and governments. Breastfeeding also improves cognitive development and is associated with higher income in adult life. It also reduces the risk of breast cancer in the mother.

The marketing of breast milk substitutes is a threat against this natural and vital practice. The main goal of large manufacturing food companies is to market their product, no matter the means or the ends. In other words, infant formula manufacturers have a duty to elevate the sales of baby formula and convince new mothers of the benefits of their nutritional product compared to breastfeeding. Their profit agenda leads to adverse health impacts that can be generated from their misleading and faulty advertising activities.

The Government of the Lao PDR has reached an important milestone to damage control by adopting the International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes in December 2019, “Decree on Food Products and Feeding Equipment for Infants and Toddlers”.

The decree aims to protect and promote breastfeeding by prohibiting marketing activities aiming to promote breast milk substitutes. By applying international and national regulations, the detrimental effects on breastfeeding success caused by baby formula promotions could be limited, preventing the increase in misperceptions among mothers about the benefits of using infant formula.

However, despite the presence of multiple laws and international legislation safeguarding the importance of breastfeeding, poor enforcement of these regulations still exists. Therefore, the nationwide implementation and support of breastfeeding can significantly contribute to the improvement of maternal health and child health, and thus reduce the burden of morbidities and mortalities occurring within these two population groups.

The European Union cooperation in the Lao PDR pays special attention to nutrition. The approach is multi-dimensional and it looks at various aspects of nutrition including behavior change, health systems strengthening, gender equality, Water Sanitation and Hygiene facilities, nutrition-sensitive agriculture and Governance.

Through the Partnership for Improved Nutrition (PIN) programme as well as the Nutrition Budget Support to the Government of the Lao PDR, the EU continues to support nutrition partners in dissemination and monitoring of the BMS Decree across the country.

Source: Lao News Agency