The right to breastfeeding – in spite of a busy life

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bui Hoai Son – Standing committee member, Culture and Education Committee of the Viet Nam National Assembly

12 July 2023
Breastfeeding safely during the COVID-19 pandemic
UNICEF Viet Nam\Truong Viet Hung

Children are the happiness of families and the future of the nation; therefore, caring for children has always been a top priority for all countries, including Vietnam. In the current context, under the pressures of life, improper child-rearing has become a barrier not only to the children's development but also to the continuity of culture and the future development of the country.

Protecting children is in line with international standards and legislation

Among the aforementioned factors, the early stages of life and breastfeeding are crucial steps that cannot be overlooked. On the occasion of the Viet Nam Family Day (June 28th), let us take a closer look at this matter in ther interest of our children’s future.

Last week, UNICEF and WHO jointly organised the Global Conference on the Implementation of International Law on Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, in Geneva, Switzerland.

This year's global conference was attended by delegations from over 100 countries, including representatives from parliamentary bodies, governments, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, and scholars in this field.

Our participation in this conference provided us with a clearer understanding of international laws related to this important field, thus contributing to strengthening the construction and enforcement of laws to protect children in accordance with international standards and legislation.

We know that breast milk is a wonderful source of natural nutrition bestowed upon humanity by Mother Nature. Breastfeeding not only meets the basic nutritional needs of infants but also provides significant benefits to both the mother and the child.

Vietnam would experience an annual loss of 2 billion dollars (0.54 percent of GDP) in terms of the health of mothers, children, and the economy when female workers are not granted maternity leave and do not maintain breastfeeding.

However, the advertising of breastmilk substitutes has had negative impacts and significant consequences on children's health. Therefore, there is a need to restrict the advertising of these products through the efforts of legislative bodies in Vietnam.

Breastfeeding is a natural and optimal process for providing nutrition to new-borns. Despite this, advertising of breast milk substitutes is becoming increasingly popular and appealing to consumers in our country.

These advertisements often present misleading claims, emphasizing the benefits that are not truly associated with breast milk substitutes and creating pressure on mothers.

This is particularly concerning in Vietnam, which is one of the countries with the highest accessibility to online information about breast milk substitutes worldwide.

This negatively affects breastfeeding practices and has adverse effects on children's health. Numerous studies have shown that children who are breastfed have better disease resistance, lower incidence of respiratory and digestive illnesses, and stronger immune systems compared to formula-fed infants.

Considering measures to restrict the advertising of breastmilk substitutes

Vietnam has the Advertising Law of 2012 and Decree 100/2014/NĐ-CP, which prohibit advertising breast milk substitutes for children up to 24 months old.

However, according to a report by the World Health Organization (2023), 92 percent of surveyed Vietnamese mothers have seen advertisements for breast milk substitutes on television, Facebook, YouTube, and Google. 29 percent of mothers have received advice from healthcare workers to use formula milk.

Tactics employed by companies include using similar labels for products serving children under as well as over 24 months of age, accessing healthcare professionals through training courses, scientific seminars, and medical associations, and gathering information from pregnant women by providing trial products for pregnant women. Moreover, businesses are increasingly using social media for advertising purposes.

According to a report by Alive & Thrive, there were over 3,372 violations of advertising breast milk substitutes on social media platforms in 2022.

Therefore, I believe that legislative bodies in Vietnam need to implement measures to restrict the advertising of breast milk substitutes. Firstly, there should be a review and implementation of regulations to directly prohibit and limit indirect advertising breast milk substitutes. These regulations need to be established clearly and strictly, ensuring compliance from companies and manufacturers.

Secondly, it is necessary to enhance information, education, and counselling for mothers regarding the benefits and importance of breastfeeding through community education programs and awareness campaigns. Legislative bodies can collaborate with healthcare organizations and nutrition experts to ensure the provision of accurate and reliable information.

Lastly, there is a need to strengthen support for mothers in breastfeeding through the development of policies and support programs for maternity leave and breastfeeding, providing favourable conditions for mothers to continue breastfeeding for an extended period.

The draft Health Insurance Law should consider including coverage for breastfeeding counselling services and sterilized breast milk for at-risk infants.

In summary, breastfeeding brings significant benefits to both mothers and babies. To protect the health and development of children, it is necessary to restrict the advertising of breast milk substitutes through the efforts of legislative bodies in Vietnam. This requires strict and determined actions from the government, as well as educational and informational initiatives, along with financial support and policies for mothers.

Only with concentration and collaboration from all parties involved can we build an environment conducive to breastfeeding and ensure the best health and development outcomes for children.

Source: Laodong

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