Yeshey Lhadon

Bhutan’s exclusive breastfeeding rate stands at 51.4 percent. UNICEF Representative, Dr Will Parks said, “UNICEF will continue to support the Royal Government of Bhutan’s efforts to improve the rate and achieve the target of 56.8 percent by 2023.”

Dr Parks said that exclusive breastfeeding was the cornerstone of child survival and child health.

Breastfeeding is more than a meal. It is the baby’s first vaccine. It boosts a child’s immune system, stimulates brain development and self-confidence.

“Breast feeding is a natural process, but it is not always easy. Mothers are better able to breastfeed when they have the support of their families through positive encouragement and sharing household responsibilities,” he said.

Not just improving exclusive breast-feeding among infants less than six months, UNICEF also encourages optimal breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.

The world breastfeeding week 2020 focuses on the impact of infant feeding on the environment and climate change, and the imperative to protect, promote and support breastfeeding for the health of the planet and its people.

“We must protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling,” said Dr Parks.

UNICEF and WHO are calling on governments to:

1. Invest to make skilled breastfeeding counselling available to every woman.

2. Train health care workers, including midwives and nurses, to deliver skilled breastfeeding counselling to mothers and families.

3. Ensure that counselling is made available as part of routine health and nutrition services that are easily accessible.

4. Partner and collaborate with civil society and health professional associations, building strong collaborative systems to provide appropriate counselling.

5. Protect health care workers from the influence of the baby food industry.

The second-year students of the Faculty of Nursing and Public Health (FNPH) in Thimphu observed the week by advocating the clients in the clinical setting for the first time. Poster presentation competitions on some major topics: breastfeeding during Covid-19, exclusive breastfeeding, alternative breastfeeding, breastfeeding in special cases and relactation were held.

A student of FNPH, Nima Wangmo, said that it was more likely for mothers to go under stress and anxiety while breast-feeding during Covid-19 pandemic. “A stressed mother will divert her attention from her baby and lactation will reduce. Breast-feeding will reduce mothers’ stress. A mother should keep calm and breastfeed.”

World Breastfeeding Week was observed from August 1 to August 7.

“Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet” was this year’s theme.

The Dean and Assistant Professor of FNPH, Deki Pem, said that mothers should visit health centres if they feel ill and practice hand washing and wear masks as they can’t maintain physical distance from their baby.

She said: “In case either the mother or the baby tests Covid-19 positive, the Covid-19 clinical management will handle the situation as per WHO’s guidance.”

Young mothers these days are not breastfeeding in public places.

Tshering Lhaden, a student, said: “Young mothers are ashamed of the shapes and sizes of their breasts. Thus, their Babies miss breastfeeding when in Public places. We encourage safe breastfeeding anywhere and anytime.”

She also said that it was challenging to grab the attention of crying infants’ parents. “New mothers complained of sore nipples and chose artificial feeding. They were shown a proper baby holding position to overcome this problem.”

A student of FNPH, Phurba Tshering, said that breastfeeding was a collective effort. “Breastfeeding is not just mothers’ responsibility. So, we also targeted confused and concerned fathers. Breastfeeding is the best compliment for giving birth, it’s nothing shameful.”

Some families chose livestock and commercial supplements which not only hamper a child’s health but also the environment. Another student of FNPH, Sarjana Limbu, said: “We discourage mothers from replacing breast-feeding with livestock and commercial supplements.”

Dawa Tshering, a diploma student studying community health, who advocated relactation found it difficult to convince the mothers. “We help mothers to re-establish breastfeeding and encourage consistent breastfeeding.”

“Children are our hope, our present and our future. A healthier planet means a healthy future. I call upon all of us to give children the best start in life,” said Dr Parks.