KUCHING: Only 23.7% of Malaysian mothers breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months, according to last year’s report. This percentage is still way too low compared to other countries. The state targets to increase it to at least 30% by 2015.
“We are always educating mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding, and now we are also trying to ensure that breastfeeding is initiated in the first 15 minutes after the baby is born,” said Sarawak General Hospital (SGH), obstetrics and gynaecology department consultant and head Dr Haris Njoo Suharjono. The next step, he said, was to bring the same practice to caesarean births.
He admitted that it was not an easy thing in such a busy hospital, which has close to 13,000 deliveries a year. Commenting on the low percentage, Dr Haris believed that society as well as the working environment should be more supportive of breastfeeding.
“There are multi-factors that contribute to the low percentage such as society’s perception towards breastfeeding, level of stress that a mother handles as well as the challenge of breastfeeding after going back to work.” Currently, all government hospitals in the state have nursing counsellors that are always ready to guide and help with any problems concerning breastfeeding.
The Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) was declared a baby-friendly hospital on Jan 1, 2004 and has been one ever since. It aims to maintain its performance in accordance to the 10 steps of the baby-friendly hospital initiative declared by WHO and Unicef. The steps state that a hospital must have a breastfeeding policy that is well-communicated to the staff, practice rooming in and initiate breastfeeding in one-and-a-half hour after labour.
“Despite all the efforts, there is an alarming trend in the state where babies are given water in addition to milk during the first six months. This practice is wrong,” said Dr Haris. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is known to lower gastrointestinal infection and WHO recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
“Mother’s milk not only provides the baby with protection from all sorts of infections, it even benefits the mother as breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer” said Kuching Division health officer Dr Kama-rudin Lajim as he officiated the World Breast-feeding Week campaign at SGH yesterday.
The World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated worldwide from Aug 1 to 7 as it marks the level of commitment that each country is giving in order to achieve better breastfeeding percentage overall. This year’s celebration is themed, “Understanding the Past-Planning the Future: Celebrating 10 years of WHO/Unicef’s Global Strategy for Infant Young Child Feeding”.
“The father as well as immediate family members play an important role in supporting and motivating a mother’s choice to breastfeed exclusively,” he added conclusively.
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