We all know breast is best. In Laos, where I will be distributing and training women in the use of clean birth kits, breast should be the only choice. The reasons are clear: lack of clean water access, inability to adequately clean bottles and the expense of breast milk substitutes (formula).
OK so assuming that breastfeeding is the only choice and it is a natural thing, why would women need information about it? Because not everyone in Laos is exclusively breastfeeding. According to the UN:
Although at least 90% of mothers are reported to breastfeed in Laos, only about 26% of babies are breast-fed exclusively to six months, according to the Ministry of Health.
…“Most mothers in Laos are actually already breastfeeding their children to six months and beyond,” said Dr Khamseng Philavong, Exclusive Breastfeeding Coordinator and pediatrician at the Centre of Mother and Child Health. “So the challenge is not to convince mothers to begin breastfeeding, but to encourage them to do it exclusively to six months. We’re reminding mothers that adding anything else to their children’s diet – formula, rice, juice, even water – is unnecessary and can be dangerous.”
Here’s what they had done to as of September 2008:
It has already involved the training and activation of some 3,000 village-level volunteers, known as ‘breast milk messengers’, who work directly with mothers and local caregivers to provide information and counseling. Trainings and orientations have also been conducted for health staff and officials in an initial nine target provinces.
I will be interested to see how this campaign initiated by the Lao government and “international partners” (including the UN), has played out three years on in the remote areas of Laos where I will be training and distributing clean birth kits.