MoH-UNICEF-WHO raises awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding to prevent malnutrition

MoH-UNICEF-WHO raises awareness of the importance of exclusive breastfeeding to prevent malnutrition


 DILI, 15 september 2022 (TATOLI) – The Ministry of Health (MoH), together with UNICEF, and WHO promoted the importance of breastfeeding to ensure healthy development in children.

In a celebration of the World Breastfeeding Week held at the Ministry of Health, today, the government and development partners raised the awareness public and mothers on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding to fight malnutrition in the country.

Speaking at the celebration of the world week for maternal breastfeeding, Odete da Silva Viegas, Director General of Health Service Delivery of the Ministry of Health said that World Breastfeeding Week was a good opportunity to strengthen the work of maternal and child health intervention in the country.”

Viegas said early and exclusive breastfeeding needs to be supported by families: “Children are the nation’s future and tomorrow’s citizens. Therefore, maternal, infant, and child health remain our top priorities.”

“I would like to encourage our mothers to breastfeed their children right after their birth. Because breastfeeding will ensure the healthy development of children and prevent malnutrition,” said Viegas.

At the same place, the UNICEF’s Country Representative to Timor-Leste, Bilal Durrani said early breastfeeding is especially important because the first feeds contain colostrum, special milk often referred to as ‘liquid gold because of its immune properties: “This colostrum serves as the baby’s first ‘immunization,’ and is rich in vitamin A and helps to ensure that the baby’s intestines and body grow and develop properly.”

According to UNICEF, in Timor-Leste, 53% of Timorese mothers do not “initiate” breastfeeding their children when a child is born from the very first hour.

Meanwhile, 22% of the Timorese children are fed solid foods before they turn 6 months old when it is extremely dangerous to give any water or food to a child in the first six months.

About 94% of Timorese do not wash their hands after disposing of a child’s feces and do not wash their hands before breastfeeding/feeding children. This leads to deadly diseases such as diarrhea and intestinal worms.

“If we want our babies to thrive and survive, the only way is to initiate breastfeeding from the first hour, don’t feed any solids or liquids (including water) in the first six months, and provide healthy nutritious food when the child turns 6 and not just rice and porridge, and wash your hands before feeding and after cleaning your babies,” said Durrani.

The global theme of World Breastfeeding Week this year is “Step up for breastfeeding: Educate and support.”

WHO and UNICEF called on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote and support breastfeeding policies and programs, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings.

“The government also has the responsibility to reach hamlets and villages through the mother support groups and PSF to create awareness about avoiding practices which could be harmful to their children,” he said.

Durrani said parents need help and support: “Mothers and caregivers need knowledge and skills on what to do if breastmilk is not coming. Communities need to learn how to cook local nutritious food. Parents and caregivers need to have basic skills to know that their children are malnourished and need medical attention.”

“Sometimes, mothers wrongly think that formula milk is better than breastmilk. The manufacturers of infant formula spend billions of dollars on predatory marketing to try and falsely convince families that their artificial products contain the same nutrients as breastmilk. This is not true. It can never be the same,” Durrani explained.

The national prevalence of bottle feeding is 32%, with as high as 53% in Dili. Mothers often cannot read the instructions to adequately use formula milk, giving the wrong formula milk to a child which is not adequate for the child’s age. Lack of hygiene to properly clean milk bottles lead to diarrhea infection which can adversely affect a child’s ability to eat and absorb a nutritious diet.

Compared with breastfed infants, non-breastfed infants are more likely to die from acute respiratory infection (ARI) and diarrhea.

The formula milk also makes children more prone to acute infections, asthma, meningitis, obesity, and diabetes. Breastfeeding on the other hand protects children against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), allergies, ARI, and ear infections.

Durrani said that exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months helps women lose the weight they gained during pregnancy: “International studies have found a connection between exclusive breastfeeding and decreased incidents of breast cancer. Breastfeeding soon after giving birth can also help mothers stop bleeding after birth and also helps the uterus to recover.”

The government should expedite and approve the draft Decree-Law for regulating the inappropriate marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (BMS), which is pending since the first draft was prepared in 2010.

“The time to act is now, so let’s get to work, to make sure that every child born in Timor-Leste is breastfed, and is given a chance to survive, grow and develop into a healthy and strong citizen of this beautiful country,” he said.

WHO’s Dr. Yu Dongbao said that scientifically breastfeeding prevents malnutrition in all its form, which includes the prevention of stunting and obesity.

“The exclusive breastfeeding rate has declined from 62% in 2013 to 50% in 2016. This is highly concerning for the health and wellbeing of these children and Timor-Leste’s economic development as a whole,” Dongbao said.

WHO called on governments, donors, civil society, and the private sectors to step up efforts to invest in breastfeeding support policies and programs; equip health and nutrition workers with the skills they need to provide quality counseling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed; protect caregivers and healthcare workers from the unethical marketing influence of the formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes; and implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space and support they need to breastfeed.

Journalist: Filomeno Martins

Editor: Nelia Borges


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