Campaign promotes exclusive early breastfeeding in Vietnam

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A mass media campaign launched in Vietnam December 14 asks parents to ensure exclusive and continued breastfeeding during the early part of their children's lives to boost their growth.

Lack of early and exclusive breastfeeding in Vietnam has led to high stunting rate among children, foreign and Vietnamese experts from the campaign said.

The campaign is part of Alive & Thrive, a five-year (2009-2013)initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

It promotes exclusive and continued breastfeeding during the first six months of life as the most complete form of nutrition for infants.

However only 19.6 percent of Vietnamese infants are exclusively breastfed during this critical period, nearly half the world average of 35 percent, said a report by AsianScientist, an online publication for Asian scientific community.

That has led to serious health consequences for children in Vietnam as one third of them are stunted while every fifth child is underweight, the report said.

The new campaign is expected to enable Vietnamese parents to make informed decisions about how children are fed during the first two years of their lives.

"Breastfeeding is the single most important factor in child survival and development," Nemat Hajeebhoy, Country Director of Alive & Thrive said in the report.

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Dr. Le Thi Hop, Director of Vietnam National Institute of Nutrition, a campaign collaborator, said, "Breastfeeding also helps prevent a great number of diseases, in childhood, as well as adulthood, from infections to allergies and chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

"By improving feeding practices during the first 24 months of life, we can reduce stunting rates and ultimately improve the health and economic development of Vietnam," Hop said.

Representatives from UNICEF, another collaborator, called for stronger national regulation on marketing of nutrition products targeting young children to regulate improper promotion of food products that compete with breastfeeding.

Although it is prohibited, many major ob-gyn hospitals in Vietnam are using formula for babies in their first days. More mothers-to-be are also recommended by doctors to have a C-section, which would reduce their breast milk remarkably.

The mass media campaign will be executed over the next two years, sending out messages calling mothers to breastfeed their infant within one hour of birth, and exclusively in the first six months without any water, formula or food.

"The more the baby suckles, the more milk a mother would produce," says a message in the campaign, which has been an experience of many old mothers in Vietnam.

TV commercials will be aired on national and provincial televisions and on popular websites such as VietNamNet, VnExpress, Webtretho, Yahoo, Women and Entertainment networks, as well as in many hospitals in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other provinces.

The National Institute of Nutrition estimates that if all families practice appropriate breastfeeding and complementary feeding practices, Vietnam could reduce its rate of stunting in children under five by 26 percent by 2015 and 23 percent by 2020.

Parents, health workers and caregivers are encouraged to visit the website Mặt trời bé thơ (Little suns) for information on breastfeeding and complementary feeding.

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