Partnering with Viet Nam’s National Assembly to protect breastfeeding
© UNICEF/Vietnam/2012/Chau Doan
A mother from the Ro Ngao ethnic group breastfeeds her baby at Dak La commune health centre in the central highland province of Kon Tum in Viet Nam.
Da Nang, 27 April 2012 – In a record move to protect the breastfeeding rights of women and children, UNICEF and the Institute of Legislative Studies under the National Assembly have concluded a series of high-level consultative meetings in Viet Nam’s coastal city of Da Nang.
These high-level meetings provided almost 200 elected bodies and National Assembly delegates with a unique opportunity to review international recommendations and their obligations to protect breastfeeding with relevant provisions in the Labour Code Amendment and proposed Law on Advertisement. During these events, UNICEF, the World Health Organisation, the Alive & Thrive Initiative as well national experts called for a ban on the advertisement of breastmilk substitutes for infants and young children up to 24 months and supported the proposal to extend paid maternity leave to 6 months.
In Viet Nam, official data shows that a large proportion of parents give formula milk or water to their babies in the first days of life and only one in five benefits from exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding till they reach two years of age. UNICEF is working with legislators and elected bodies to safeguard breastfeeding with effective implementation of the International Code on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and regulations on maternity protection.
Protecting the right of children to be breastfed
“Breastfeeding, as enshrined in article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is a legal right of the child and the promotion of breastfeeding is a legal obligation of the State. But exclusive breastfeeding is difficult to achieve if the mother has to leave her infant and parental responsibilities behind and return to work before six months”, said Ms. Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Viet Nam’s Representative, in Da Nang. “To create an enabling environment for breastfeeding and other recommended child-caring practices, governments should enact legislation protecting the breastfeeding rights of working women, such as paid maternity leave for six months or beyond.”
Ms. Lotta Sylwander speaking at the consultative meeting organised in Da Nang for breastfeeding protection. Credits: UNICEF/Vietnam/2012/Bisin
During the final meeting in Da Nang, Ms. Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, Director of the Department of Family and Social Affairs, Viet Nam’s Women’s Union, voiced support to the extension of paid maternity leave to six months, and emphasised the need for additional supporting policies and funds for rural women. In addition, a representative of the Department of Social Health Policies Enforcement, the guiding body of Viet Nam’s social health insurance, confirmed that there were ample funds available to cover the costs of extending maternity leave to six months. Results from a study completed by the General Confederation of Labor, revealed that 90 per cent of female laborers are in favor of extending maternity leave to six months.
Improper marketing of breastmilk substitutes
The workshops also touched upon the unethical marketing and promotion of breastmilk substitutes and food products that compete with breastfeeding by local and multinational companies operating in Viet Nam.
“Asia-Pacific accounts for 31 per cent of the global retail value sales of baby food, compared with 24 per cent in Western Europe and 22 per cent in North America”, reminded UNICEF's Legal Nutrition Advisor, David Clark. “Improper marketing and promotion of food products that compete with breastfeeding are important factors that often negatively affect the choice and ability of a mother to breastfeed her infant optimally. Given the special vulnerability of infants and the risks involved in inappropriate feeding practices, all promotion of breastmilk substitutes intended for use up to the age of 24 months should be banned, in accordance with the International Code.”
A National Assembly seating to review and adopt the Labour Code Amendment and proposed Advertisement Law will take place in May this year. “These two legal instruments are very important and will have tremendous impact on many populations, in particular female workers and children. The protection of breastfeeding will ensure babies get the best nutrition source from their first hours of life till they reach two years of age”, said Mr. Hoang Van Tu, Vice-President of Viet Nam’s Institute of Legislative Studies under the National Assembly Standing Committee, at the Da Nang conference.
Risks of not breastfeeding
The risks of not breastfeeding were also reviewed at the meeting. Breast milk substitutes – cow’s milk, goat milk and formula - are vulnerable to mixing mistakes, manufacturing errors, and contaminations, which contribute to increases in disease and death. Even though powdered formula is made from pasteurized milk, contamination can occur during the later stages of manufacturing – and powdered formula is not actually sterile. A non-breastfed infant is over 14 times more likely to die from all causes during the first six months than a breastfed child.
Research published in the Lancet shows that early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding as well as continued breastfeeding for 24 months have the greatest potential impact on child survival of all preventive interventions, with the potential to prevent 1.4 million deaths in children under five in the developing world.
Breast milk has both short- and long-term impact on a child’s survival, health and development. When a baby is born, breast milk serves as the baby’s first immunisation to help fight disease and illness. Breastfeeding is one of the most helpful practices a mother can undertake to protect her baby from harmful bacteria and viruses. Infant formula lacks many of the essential qualities present in breast milk, including special antibodies and other bioactive substances that protect children from illness.
“Early, exclusive and continued breastfeeding results in reduced illness during childhood and in later life. The savings from this reduction in illness are significant from a health systems perspective. It is estimated that optimal breastfeeding could save the Viet Nam health system USD 10 million per year”, said Ms. Nemat Hajeebhoy, Director of Alive & Thrive in Viet Nam.
“In Viet Nam, what we need is to support and encourage mothers to breastfeed their children in the best way possible, that is: start breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, give nothing else but breast milk from the first hour of birth up to the first six months of life and continue to breastfeed up to 24 months or longer. Investing in the health of our children in the first 1000 days of their lifes, is the best investment we can make for the future human resource of Viet Nam”, Ms. Hajeebhoy added.
“Mothers need to know breastfeeding is the right thing to do, as it provides their babies with a natural gift. Let us make it easier for women to do both: contribute to Viet Nam’s economy and provide their children with the best start in life”, Ms. Sylwander concluded.