By Sandar Linn
OKTWIN, Myanmar, 6 December 2010 – Bant Bwae Kone village in Oktwin township, located in Myanmar’s Bago Region, is one of the villages selected by UNICEF and the National Nutrition Centre (NNC) at the Ministry of Health in a new initiative to promote exclusive breastfeeding for infants and young children.
|VIDEO: 20 November 2010 - UNICEF reports on a community outreach programme promoting exclusive breastfeeding for infants and young children in rural Myanmar. Watch in RealPlayer|
Myths and misconceptions about breastfeeding have long existed here, barring many children from the opportunity for a healthy start in life. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months after birth stimulates babies’ immune systems and protects them from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, two of the major causes of infant mortality in the developing world.
A baseline study carried out last year in two Bago townships showed that about 86 per cent of mothers start breastfeeding soon after birth. However, most add water to the child’s diet within a few weeks, followed by other foods. Only 17.3 per cent of children under six months of age are exclusively breastfed, the study found.
Charting a new course
Today, UNICEF and its partners in Myanmar are charting a new course. They’ve chosen an approach that relies largely upon community volunteers who go door to door in their home communities, armed with a set of simple flip charts and talk about exclusive breastfeeding with pregnant women and lactating mothers.
In collaboration with the NNC and the Central Health Education Bureau, UNICEF is providing training in the interpersonal skills that are vital for the success of these frontline communicators. Some 500 health workers have been trained in Phyu and Oktwin townships.
|© UNICEF Myanmar/2010/Myo Thame|
|Participants work on a mapping exercise during a UNICEF-supported communications training session on promoting exclusive breastfeeding in Bago Region, Myanmar.|
“This training is very important, because before I did not clearly know the importance and meaning of exclusive breastfeeding, and also how to effectively communicate and spread messages in community,” said Daw Tin Moe Win, an auxiliary midwife. “I learnt a lot from this training which will enhance my communication skills.”
She continued: “It is indeed a challenge to discourage the traditional practice of giving babies water, juices and herbal liquids and rice, which has been long existed. But I am determined and confident about the change, and I don’t believe that parents won’t change if they clearly understand that is the best for their child.”
Change in attitudes
To bring about a change in attitudes and practices, messengers like Daw Tin Moe Win work not only with families and individuals but with entire communities through home visits and group discussions
Another community health volunteer, Dwa Khin Pyone, knows she has a long road ahead but is glad this project has helped her take the first steps. “Exclusively breastfeed your child until six months,” she said, repeating one of the key messages she brings to pregnant women and lactating mothers. “No need to add water.”