Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy

Parents, doctors and village heads are helping their children to thrive through exclusive breastfeeding

by Mike Saycon
Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon

26 October 2018

As the Global Conference on Primary Health Care is taking place on 25-26 October in Astana, Kazakhstan, we visited two provinces in Laos that UNICEF has been supporting to see how parents, doctors and village heads are helping their children to thrive.

Breastfeeding in the first hour of a child's life can ensure a healthy start for a child’s mental and physical development. In Laos, early initiation of breastfeeding has improved a lot in recent years, with the rate rising from 39% in 2011 to 50% in 2017.

Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon
Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon

Five-month-old Loulli smiles easily and responds to her playful sisters and cousins, even though she has recently been diagnosed with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).

To address the condition, Loulli’s mother Khamvilay has doubled her efforts to breastfeed her daughter and give her nutritious complementary food and therapeutic meals from UNICEF. Loulli is now recovering.

Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon

Nine-month-old Phonphansa gets his weight and height monitored regularly at the Xepone District Hospital. His mother Vilayphone has been sticking to exclusive breastfeeding since he was born.

Vilayphone proudly says that she has never given the boy any infant formula milk, and that he’s already received all his immunisation.

Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon

Aht was married at a very young age, and works at the farm with her husband. Despite having to spend much of her time in the field, she makes sure she can be home in time to breastfeed her seven-month old twin boys.

Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon

“They panic when their babies cry so they feed them rice, cereals, or infant formula. They stick to this notion because they were taught or fed by their own mothers this way,” Fueang says. 

Fueang, head of the Lao Women’s Union in her village, makes sure that her residents, especially mothers, realize the importance of breastfeeding babies. 

Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon
Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon

Lilamone, district nurse at Xepone Hospital, actively promotes healthy family planning methods to her patients – especially young mothers from ethnic groups. She has seen the number of women in rural villages seeking infant feeding advice rise, and is thinking of a solution to find more staff and give better training in villages.

Rao, from Ta Oi village in Saravane Province, breastfeeds her youngest child as she waits for her son to finish at the community-based school readiness (CBSR) centre.

Breastfeeding helps keep every child healthy
UNICEF Laos/2018/Saycon

“They have all received the necessary vaccines from our village health centre,” Rao says with a smile.

Rao was only 22 when she first gave birth, and now a mother of four. She has managed to maintain good breastfeeding practices and gives all her children healthy nutritious food that the farm she works for produces.

Investing in health centres, especially in remote areas is essential. Equally important is to keep mothers informed of the best practices to provide good nutrition to their newborns, and breastfeeding is one of them.