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Breastfeeding vital for Myanmar's cyclone-affected children

Author: UNICEF
Year: 2008
Resource type: Case study

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Breastfeeding vital for Myanmar’s cyclone-affected children

During World Breastfeeding Week, 1-7 August 2008, UNICEF and other advocacy groups are promoting exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which experts believe could save 1.3 million infant lives every year.

Case study

SOUTHERN BOGALAY, Myanmar, 7 August 2008 – Ma Khin Mar San lives in Kyonegyi Konethechaung, one of the rural islands in Southern Bogalay in the Irrawaddy Delta. Nearly 800 people in her village were killed by the storm surge that followed Cyclone Nargis in May. Ma Khin Mar San’s youngest step child was among the casualties. She was due to give birth when the cyclone struck but was able to escape harm by climbing a coconut tree. She and her surviving step child were without help and proper shelter for four days before food rations arrived.

After her baby was born, village elders advised her not to breastfeed, saying that she was too weak from the storm. They told her to feed her baby formula. It was only after a UNICEF Health and Nutrition Officer intervened that the mother and child were properly assessed and encouraged to exclusively breastfeed her baby. Ma Khin Mar San was transferred to a local hospital where her child was already showing signs of malnutrition.

Breastfeeding crucial in emergencies

It’s estimated that less than 15 per cent of mothers in Myanmar exclusively breastfeed their babies, but the practice is even more crucial in protecting the lives of children in the wake of emergencies, when the risk of childhood disease and mortality are high. UNICEF is working with local partners to ensure that mothers understand its importance. ‘‘It is crucial to give the baby only breast milk. The valuable protection from infection and its consequences that breast milk confers is all the more important in environments without safe water supply and sanitation,’’ said local midwife, Hla Hla New.

Health workers, supported by UNICEF are reinforcing the message that breastfeeding can help prevent children from falling prey to diseases such diarrhoea and pneumonia. Ma Khin Mar San was given proper counselling on breastfeeding and encouraged to breastfeed as frequently and as long as the baby demanded. Within a day or two, her baby had recovered. Now she is ready to go back to her village and will continue exclusive breastfeeding until the baby reaches six months, knowing that the risk of the baby being seriously infected and malnourished has reduced.

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UNICEF (2008). Breastfeeding vital for Myanmar's cyclone-affected children. www.ennonline.net/bfmyanmarcyclone

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