Topical Issue

This is how Mongolian moms are breastfeeding

Commemorating the World Breastfeeding Week 2017

A mother breastfeeding her child. Photo courtesy UNICEF Mongolia

We all know breastfeeding is ideal for the baby. Reiterating the fact, a recent study published by Lancet stated that breast milk can make the world healthier and smarter. It protects the baby against infections and babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first few months have lower risk of health issues.
This year, Mongolia, like the rest of other countries around the world, observed the World Breastfeeding Week 2017 on 1-7 August under the theme ‘Sustaining Breastfeeding Together’.
World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within an hour after birth until a baby is 6 months old and continue breastfeeding until 2 years old or more.
There are approximately 830 million women workers in the world. Many of them return to work soon after delivering babies, and they need supportive national polices and legislation – such as paid maternity leave and breastfeeding breaks – to enable them to continue breastfeeding.  There are also millions more women working in the informal, seasonal or part-time economy who face even greater barriers to breastfeeding.  They need strong family, health workers and community support to manage the demands of work and breastfeeding their babies.
Providing this support is the right thing to do for both babies and mothers: breastfeeding prevents infant death, childhood infectious illness, obesity and non-communicable diseases, while supporting brain development and protecting maternal health. It also makes good economic sense. Women who have adequate maternity benefits value their employers, leading to increased productivity, job satisfaction and loyalty.
While breastfeeding rates are no longer declining at the global level, with many countries experiencing significant increases in the last decade, only 39 per cent of children less than six months of age in the developing world are exclusively breastfed and just 58 per cent of 20-23 month olds benefit from the practice of continued breastfeeding. A growing number of countries are demonstrating that significant and rapid progress is possible, with 25 countries showing increases of 20 percentage points or more.

What is the situation like in Mongolia?
Breastfeeding is declining in Mongolia, according to a Breast Milk Substitute (BMS) Factsheet, issued jointly by the Mongolian Ministry of Health, the National Center for Public Health and UNICEF Mongolia.
“The study reveals that only 47 percent of infants under the age of 6 months are being exclusively breastfed. In the past 10-15 years, exclusive breastfeeding indicator has been stable at 60 percent, but in recent years there has been observed a tendency towards decline in this indicator,” according to BMC Factsheet Mongolia.
Breastfeeding is a commonly practiced tradition in Mongolia, but in the modern times, this practice is encountering a number of obstacles, which are perhaps the lead causes for the declining trend in exclusive breastfeeding.

Exclusive breastfeeding of infants in the first six months, in percentage. Source: Social Indicator Sample Survey, 2013

Aggressive marketing and promotion of breast milk substitute by formula importers is misleading the mothers who are choosing not to breastfeed their babies. These pressures are too often worsened by inaccurate medical advice from health workers who lack proper skills and training in breastfeeding support. In addition, many women have to return to work soon after delivery, and they face a number of challenges and pressures, which often lead them to stop exclusive breastfeeding early. Working mothers need support, including legislative measures, to enable them to continue breastfeeding.
It is clear that families and public support are important for mothers to decide on breastfeeding. In this respect, there is a vital need to create the necessary environment and conditions within a family, at the work place or in a public place where mothers can breastfeed their babies.
Also mothers need appropriate support and assistance to breastfeed their children after birth. Granting working mothers a four-month paid leave after birth is definitely insufficient for mothers to exclusively breastfeed their children until they reach the age of 6 months. Studies have found that the shorter the paid leave period after birth, the greater the chance of mothers stop breastfeeding their children.

    Mongolia’s Health Minister A. Tsogtsetseg also gave another reason why exclusive breastfeeding level is declining in the country. According to her “Poverty level in the country is not declining consistently, owing to which mothers have no choice but to resume their work not very long after delivery.”
Medela India, a research-based company that provides evidence on breastfeeding solutions to mothers around the world, has conducted a survey to understand the most common issues that affects a mother’s breastfeeding decision. The idea of the survey was to find breastfeeding habits, recent trends, key insights of lactating mothers; both stay-at-home and working along with challenges faced by mothers in breastfeeding their baby.
Below are findings from New Delhi carried out by Medela India:
1. Only 28 percent initiated breastfeeding in the first hour
2. 49 percent of mothers fed their babies with colostrum after birth, wherein 41 percent still fed them with formula feed
3. 80 percent mothers plan to breastfeed their babies for first 6 months
4. 32 percent fed their babies with formula feed due to doctor’s recommendation
5. 28 percent consult their own mothers for advices on breastfeeding and 22 percent with paediatrician.
Stocktaking is being done with regard to declining rate in exclusive breastfeeding in the country and although belated, actions are being planned to promote exclusive breastfeeding.

Import of breast milk substitutes, in tons. Source: Statistics of the General Agency for Specialized Investigation of Mongolia

A new law on Infant and Young Child Food, which was adopted by the Mongolian Parliament in May this year, came into force as of 1 July 2017. The purpose of the law is to define a policy promoting breastfeeding, supplying infants and young children with safe food and regulating laws and legislation monitoring the law.
In connection with this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, the Mongolian Ministry of Health held a partnership meeting called “Voluntary pledge to jointly support exclusive breastfeeding.”
The objective of this partnership meeting was to build and reinforce the foundations for a long-term partnership and collaboration between the public and private sector to promote exclusive breastfeeding, and in the course, a Declaration Promoting Exclusive Breastfeeding was also signed, indicating to the signs of closer collaboration at the public and private sector levels to improve exclusive breastfeeding level in the country.
This is simply because breastfeeding gives children the healthiest start in life and is one of the simplest, smartest and most cost-effective ways we have of ensuring that all children survive and thrive.

Baby milk formulas, without proper information in Mongolian, are sold across the country. Photo©TMO

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