A Mother’s Gift in the Time of COVID-19

How one mother is doing her best to ensure that her daughter has the best start to life despite of the COVID-19 pandemic

Siliphot Sihaphom
A woman standing
©UNICEF Laos/2021/SSiriphongphanh
06 August 2021

Phonevilai Sorbudsady, 31, is a resident of Xaythany District of Vientiane, where she works at the National Centre for Nutrition of Lao PDR. She is also a mother of an 11 month old daughter named Phetpachanh, who she cherishes very dearly.

Even before Phetpachanh was born, Phonevilai had made an important decision that will ensure that her daughter would grow up strong and healthy.

“I believe that raising a young child on breastmilk can greatly aid in their development and build up their immunity. I’ve never fed my daughter infant formula milk and I know it’s easy for many mothers to opt for that option instead. However, I’ve already made the decision to do my best in raising my daughter, and an important part of that decision is to breastfeed her,” she said, always with a touch of tenderness whenever referring to her baby daughter.

She proudly states that since the day Phetpachanh was born, her daughter has fallen ill only once. Phonevilai attributes this to the fact that she fed her with breastmilk exclusively for the first six months.  She herself is always attentive to what she eats to ensure that she produces enough breastmilk for her daughter. However, since Phetpachanh is now 11 months old, breastmilk alone is no longer sufficient to meet her nutrient needs and her mother now complements her breastmilk with other foods to promote a more diverse diet for her daughter.

“In addition to breastfeeding, I also feed Phetpachanh with nutrient-dense porridge that is usually a mixture of rice and vegetables, such as green leafy varieties or sweeter varieties like pumpkin and sweet potato.”

A woman breastfeeding
UNICEF Laos/2021/SSiriphongphanh
Phonevilai breastfeeding her daughter at home.

In addition to her dedication to her own child’s nutrition and health, Phonevilai is also dedicated to promoting nutrition among Lao children in general through her work at the National Centre for Nutrition, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even during the pandemic, Phonevilai continues to go on field missions to monitor nutrition interventions across other provinces of the country, particularly in remote areas, having just returned from a trip to Khammouane province.

“I was a bit worried about COVID-19 because I am considered a frontline worker so I often get to go on field missions during the pandemic. I always take extra care in following prevention measures recommended after returning from these missions. I regularly wash my hands with soap and immediately after returning home, I take a shower and wash all my clothes, as well as constantly monitor my own health after these trips before interacting with my family.”

A woman writing
UNICEF Laos/2021/SSiriphongphanh
Phonevilai has worked at the National Centre for Nutrition of Lao PDR since 2015. She started as a volunteer and now currently works at the Institute’s front desk, where she monitors all incoming and outgoing documents.
A woman standing

Whenever she goes for work or field missions, Phonevilai never forgets to express breastmilk for her daughter. Expressed breastmilk can be stored in normal room temperature for up to six hours but for when Phonevilai goes on field missions, she has to store them in a refrigerator at home instead. Sometimes, Phonevilai finds herself producing too much breastmilk that she has to donate some of it to hospitals to help mothers who may be struggling to produce enough breastmilk for their children. During Phonevilai’s absence, Phetpachanh is cared for by her grandparents because Phonevilai’s husband also works an office job for the whole day as well. Phetpachanh’s grandparents equally adore her as much as her own mother.

Most recently, Phonevilai decided to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect her daughter and family. She already received the second dose of her COVID-19 vaccine. At first she was hesitant about getting vaccinated since some mothers reported issues producing breastmilk after getting vaccinated. However, after consulting guidelines from the Center for Communication and Education on Health (CCEH) and understanding the benefits of vaccines in building immunity against the virus for both mother and child, she ultimately decided to get vaccinated.

When reflecting back on the last 11 months spent caring for Phetpachanh, she notes that the experience of breastfeeding is unique in its ability to help form emotional bond between a mother and her child.

“Whenever I breastfeed my daughter, I get to see her face, play with her, kiss her cheeks and just simply feel emotionally connected to her when she is in my arms. I think children also feel safer in the warmth of a mother’s embrace when breastfed, which I think is a feeling that can never be replicated through bottle-feeding.”

“I also think that for mothers to be able to breastfeed optimally, they need support from their families. I consider myself blessed to have such a supportive family who are always there to help look after Phetpachanh.”

A woman standing
©UNICEF Laos/2021/SSiriphongphanh

Phonevilai wants to keep on breastfeeding Phetpachanh until the age of two and, if possible, even until five years of age, if she still produces enough breastmilk then, for she believes wholeheartedly that doing so will give her daughter the best start to life. And indeed, what better gift could a mother provide for her child?

On the occasion of World Breast Feeding Week 2021, the theme this year being “Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility”, UNICEF is calling on governments, workplaces and relevant actors throughout all areas of society to protect the practice of breastfeeding and create an enabling environment for mothers to breastfeed optimally, while strengthening the capacity of health workers to support parents and provide counseling on breastfeeding.