UNICEF and WVI urge immediate action to reverse the alarming decline in breastfeeding rates in Cambodia

25 August 2023
UNICEF and WVI urge immediate action to reverse the alarming decline in breastfeeding rates in Cambodia
UNICEF Cambodia/2023/Bunsak But
Cambodia's celebration of world breastfeeding week workshop

PHNOM PENH, 25 August 2023 – As part of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, UNICEF, World Vision International, and partners warn of the sharp decline in breastfeeding rates in Cambodia, as shown by the latest Cambodia Demographic Health Survey (CDHS 2021-22). The survey shows that early breastfeeding – giving a baby breast milk within one hour of birth – has dropped from 66 per cent to 54 per cent in the last decade, while exclusive breastfeeding – feeding babies only breast milk for the first six months of life – has fallen from 74 per cent to 50 per cent.  

These results are worrisome as breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival at the start of life. According to global estimates, the lives of about 820,000 children would be saved every year if breastfeeding were scaled up to near universal levels. Breastfeeding also supports a child’s learning and prevents obesity and chronic diseases later in life. 

“Breast milk is one of the greatest gifts a mother can give her child. Infants nurtured through breastfeeding are more likely to survive, are more protected against life-threatening diseases, and grow into healthier adults,” said Dr. Will Parks, UNICEF Representative in Cambodia. “Let us renew our dedication to creating a better environment that empowers mothers with the knowledge and ability to breastfeed in all settings, from the moment of the child’s birth in the health facility to the family home and the mother’s workplace. In doing so, all children can get the best start in life, and we lay the foundation for Cambodia’s future generations to thrive.” 

The CDHS 2021-22 identifies several factors that may have contributed to the decline in breastfeeding rates, such as the continued aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes (BMS) like infant formula, lack of awareness of breastfeeding benefits over BMS, and limited support for breastfeeding mothers as they go back to work. The decline in breastfeeding was already observed even before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Through our health and nutrition programmes, World Vision International in Cambodia works with health facilities, parents/caregivers, and community representatives to promote breastfeeding in Cambodia,” said Ms. Grana Pu Selvi, Technical Lead for Integrated Nutrition, World Vision International in Cambodia. “Breastfeeding is a shared responsibility, and it needs support from all parts of society. We urge everyone to invest in breastfeeding for a better and more sustainable Cambodia.” 

Females made up 47.1 per cent of the total labour force in Cambodia in 2022, yet paid maternity leave in the country is currently only 90 days, which is shorter than the minimum ILO recommendation of 18 weeks (126 days).  

UNICEF and partners call on all stakeholders to take concrete actions to reverse the decline in breastfeeding practices by creating a better environment for communities, families, and parents to support breastfeeding and for mothers to breastfeed. These actions include: 

  • Enforce existing national regulations (sub-decree 133) on the marketing of breast milk substitutes and other products that can undermine breastfeeding, in line with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. 
  • Support breastfeeding mothers in their workplaces, such as through paid maternity leave for at least six months, flexible working hours, lactation rooms, and childcare facilities. 
  • Provide skilled breastfeeding counselling and lactation support to mothers from the time of delivery and beyond. 
  • Raise public awareness and strengthen social mobilization on the importance of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding through various channels. 
  • Engage family members, especially fathers, grandmothers, and other caregivers, to promote breastfeeding and support mothers in making informed decisions about breastfeeding. 

“The Ministry of Health has been carrying out various activities to encourage the best feeding practices for infants and young children,” said H.E. Dr. Prak Sophonneary, Secretary of State, Minister of Health. “These include the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and the National Policy on Infant and Young Child Feeding. We also urge all health workers to follow Sub-Decree 133 on the Marketing of Products for Infant and Young Child Feeding and to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding in their work.”  

To address the alarming drop in breastfeeding rates, SUN partners in Cambodia are working together to support the government to more strongly enforce existing legislation on the marketing of BMS, put in place better maternity leave provisions, improve breastfeeding counselling and support services, and strengthen public awareness of and community engagement in breastfeeding. 



About UNICEF  

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. 

For more information about UNICEF and its work in Cambodia, visit: https://www.unicef.org/cambodia  

Follow UNICEF in Cambodia on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | Linkedin 


About World Vision International 

World Vision commenced work in Cambodia in 1970s. Working closely with Government ministries, local partners and community groups, we collaborate with communities to improve the lives of Cambodian children, especially the most vulnerable children, in three key areas; integrated nutrition, education, and child protection and participation. 

For more information about World Vision International in Cambodia, visit: https://www.wvi.org/cambodia 
Follow World Vision International in Cambodia on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | Linkedin 


Digital Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in Cambodia 

For more information, please contact:  

Hadrien Bonnaud  

Chief of Communication, UNICEF Cambodia  

Tel: +85523260204 Email: hbonnaud@unicef.org 

Ratana Lay 
Communications and Public Engagement Manager, World Vision International in Cambodia 
Tel: +855 86 915 925  Email: ratana_lay@wvi.org  

Media contacts

Hadrien Bonnaud
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85592555294
Ty Chan
Communication Officer
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +855 92 284 262


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook