Educating Indonesian mothers and midwives during World Breastfeeding Week
By Suzanna Dayne
During World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 August 2008, UNICEF and other advocacy groups are promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which experts believe could save 1.3 million infant lives every year.
LOMBOK, Indonesia, 29 July 2008 – It’s early morning as Dwinta Dyah Larasanti, a midwife, sets off to the local health clinic prepared to fight poor infant feeding. Dwinta’s weapon in this battle is simple: accurate information.
Dwinta is one of many new midwives trained with support from UNICEF in proper infant feeding practices. Now she is passing on her expertise to mothers in the community. At the clinic, she uses simple tools like flip charts and illustrated guides to explain the importance of proper breastfeeding.
“You should give your babies only breast milk from birth up to the age of six months. No formula, no solid food. Nothing but mother’s milk,” Ms. Larasanti tells her class. “Even when you start to wean your child, mother’s milk can be given up to two years and beyond.”
Developing countries suffer
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action advocates the ‘gold standard’ of breastfeeding – which includes immediate breastfeeding within one hour of birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding for up to two years.
In Indonesia, most mothers do not exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months of life. This trend can be seen in many developing countries, and it leads to deadly consequences.
“Breast milk is the first vaccine of life. It can protect babies from diarrhoea, malnutrition and a host of other ailments that can kill,” said UNICEF Indonesia’s Chief of Health and Nutrition, Dr. Anne Vincent. “UNICEF is working in key areas to raise awareness among midwives and mothers alike. This programme is needed now more than ever.”
Effects of poor feeding
At Praya Hospital here on Lombok island, the effects of poor infant feeding can be seen on the faces of many suffering children.
Arya is nearly three years old and, weighing in at less than 6.5 kg, is acutely malnourished. His older brother died when he was about the same age. His mother Samsuarah admits she didn’t breastfeed properly and fed her young babies sugar water and rice.
This is a rare case for the award-winning hospital, which doesn't often see such acute cases. But it does reflect the need for ongoing support for all mothers and midwives.
To face these challenges and to ensure that proper breastfeeding information gets to as many mothers as possible, village-level support groups have been set up on the island. Nur Hasamin is a volunteer who attended breastfeeding classes at the local health clinic. She is also pregnant, and eager to spread her knowledge about proper feeding practices to her neighbours.
“Many mothers wean too early or think that bottle feeding is best,” said midwife Imansuri Hartini, who also noted that some manufacturers of formula and artificial foods provide cash incentives to midwives to promote their products.
“I know how important breastfeeding is, so I don’t want to do that,” she added. “I didn’t breastfeed my first child properly. But now I know what to do. I want to make sure that my new baby and all the babies in my village are healthy and protected.”