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Infant and young child feeding

A Hmong minority woman breastfeeds her child in Lao PDR
© UNICEF/LAO02522/Holmes
A Hmong minority woman breastfeeds her child in Lao PDR

The Issues

Infants and young children need proper nutrition to thrive and develop.  But disturbingly high numbers of young children in our region suffer malnutrition, despite our region’s much vaunted economic growth.

  • Malnutrition begins in the womb.  Malnourished mothers are more likely to give birth to low-birth weight babies, who are effectively born malnourished.  Around 40 per cent of women in South-East Asia are underweight.
  • Low rates of exclusive breastfeeding.  Mothers should breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months of life.  But rates of exclusive breastfeeding are low in our region.  Many mothers are encouraged to give their babies infant formula, which is inferior to breast milk and often over-diluted or mixed with contaminated water.
  • Poor feeding practices.  Many children in our region are given solid foods too early in life.  Children are also not being fed at frequent enough intervals.
  • Monotonous diets.  Malnutrition in our region usually stems from a lack of variety rather than a lack of food.  This effectively starves children of essential nutrients.
  • Low status of women and children.  Meat, fish and other protein-rich foods are still highly prized in many parts of our region and often reserved for adult males.

Campaigning for breastfeeding in China
Campaigning for breastfeeding in China

UNICEF in Action

UNICEF seeks to build the foundations of good nutrition in our region with the following actions:

  • Improving access to education and health services for women and girls;
  • Promoting exclusive breastfeeding for infants, from birth to six months, better complementary feeding and better hygiene combined with deworming through community-based programmes;
  • Developing and distributing low-cost complementary foods, fortified foods and nutritional supplements;
  • Advocating for responsible marketing of infant formulas and appropriate maternity leave so women can breastfeed; and
  • Strengthening links between programmes in health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene for children younger than 5.



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