Infant and young child feeding
Quality feeding practices for a stronger future
Bangladesh faces several challenges in ensuring age-appropriate nutrition to growing children.
Bangladesh faces several challenges in ensuring age-appropriate nutrition to growing children which is critical for avoiding undernutrition during early development.
For secured sustenance and developing a strong immune system, a child must be given only breastmilk for the first six months. After this period, caregivers must introduce some foods into their diets and continue breastfeeding until age two.
This practice, known as complementary feeding, is the transition from exclusive breastfeeding to family foods. It is crucial for meeting a child’s increased nutritional needs and covers the 6-24 month period, critical for physical growth and cognitive development.
Nutrient deficiencies and illnesses during this period contribute globally to higher rates of undernutrition among children under five. Many parents are inadequately informed about when and how to feed their children complementary food alongside breastfeeding — when to start, frequency and minimum dietary diversity.
Household food insecurity affects a quarter of the population. Families with limited incomes cannot always buy protein such as fish and meat. Nationally, age-appropriate complementary feeding rates are very low and in some areas like urban slums, alarmingly so.
Only one-third of children are given complementary foods in a timely fashion
Only 23 per cent of children are fed according to infant and young child feeding practices.
Early initiation of breastfeeding only at 51 per cent
Exclusive breastfeeding slipped from 64 per cent to 55 per cent between 2011 and 2014
Bangladeshi mothers often prefer formula and may face difficulties in trying to convince their husbands on the need to purchase meat and fish. In some communities, there are superstitions on feeding fish and meat to children. Sometimes young children are not given these items even when they are available at home. Infants must be breastfed within one hour of birth to make sure they receive colostrum or ‘first milk’, which is rich in elements crucial for protecting newborns against common illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Few families practice this early initiation and breastfeeding for up to two years because of geographic and economic disparities. For example, the early initiation rate in Khulna Division is 47.3 per cent as opposed to 73.5 per cent in Sylhet. The differences in early breastfeeding between mothers from the poorest and richest quintile are notable: 48.1 per cent as opposed to 62.5 per cent.
Although Bangladesh has reached a target set on exclusive breastfeeding by the World Health Assembly, there has been a worrisome decline in the practice.
Newborns must be breastfed within one hour of birth to make sure they receive nutrient-rich colostrum or ‘first milk’
UNICEF works with the government to train healthcare workers in counselling practices and strengthening their responsive communication skills. These workers operate at the grass-roots level and demonstrate specific methods of ensuring nutrition for children, families and caregivers.
We also train health staff to demonstrate recommended breastfeeding methods, store breastmilk and tackle breast ailments and perceived insufficient milk.
Health workers are also trained to assess and analyse current household practices and use this information to design actions for change. UNICEF also supports health facilities to generate monthly reports on all standard nutrition indicators from districts.
UNICEF supports the Government to set the standard for amount, variety, age-based frequency, texture and hygiene for feeding children complementary items. These can include mashed cereals, animal protein, boiled vegetables and ripe fruit like mango or papaya.
UNICEF is currently working to further raise the proportion of mothers who receive nutrition counselling while attending antenatal care. We are also focused on raising the number of overall caregivers who receive nutrition counselling, besides improving the coverage of Vitamin A drives for children between 6 months and 5 years.
As part of our efforts to address the increased needs of women and children in urban areas, UNICEF supports the rights of women and children in the workplace. Under the Mothers@Work initiative, UNICEF encourages factories to have family-friendly policies for their workers, setting the 7 minimum standards such as breastfeeding places and feeding breaks, provision for child care, leaves for expecting parents, cash and medical benefits, and employment protection.
UNICEF is currently working to further raise the proportion of mothers who receive nutrition counselling while attending Anti-Natal Care.
Guidelines for Complementary Feeding in Bangladesh; NFPCSP, FAO, USAID and EU, 2013