We must invest towards increasing breastfeeding rates in Bangladesh
This year, Bangladesh observed World Breastfeeding Week, 2020 with the theme “Support breastfeeding for a healthier planet.” Bangladesh National Nutrition Services (NNS), Institute of Public Health and Nutrition (IPHN) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW), and Bangladesh Breastfeeding Foundation (BBF) jointly supported to celebrate this auspicious event across the country along with other development partners.
Like every year, we have expressed our commitment to improving breastfeeding situations -- to take advantage of short and long-term health, economic, and environmental changes. To realize these gains, political support and financial investment are needed to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has demonstrated the highest political commitment to achieving an exemplary milestone by getting legislative approval on the Breastmilk Substitute Act in 2013 from parliament and supported with additional bylaws in 2017.
Bangladesh Service Rules allow a public servant to enjoy maternity leave for six-months twice in service tenure and extension of basic health and nutrition services to the doorsteps of the population through 13,736 community clinics and the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
All these efforts collectively offer breastfeeding services and support to sustain the practices among mothers.
However, recently, two webinars were organized by NNS, IPHN, Bangladesh National Nutrition Council, BBF, and Civil Society Alliance for Scaling Up Nutrition with technical assistance from Save the Children in Bangladesh.
From the webinars, speakers discussed that breastfeeding contributes to fewer infections and increased intelligence among children, probable protection against diabetes and becoming overweight, and cancer prevention for mothers.
They mentioned that, even with the progressive trend of an exclusive breastfeeding rate in the last decade from 2007 to 2017-18, it shows a 45% to 65% increase. Breastfeeding practices among different segments of the population varied with education, wealth status, and working status.
Early initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of childbirth is higher among the poor population (59.5%) while among the rich it is only 35.8%.
There is a paradox in the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in different regions of Bangladesh which shows that Dhaka is the lowest (52.4%) while Rangpur is the highest (77.1%).
Even though mothers with higher education adopt breastfeeding at a low rate compared to no education, they continue breastfeeding for the first six months with a steadier rate than others.
Speakers highlighted that investment in breastfeeding is critical to improving the overall situation in Bangladesh.
Hospitals and clinics that offer maternity services should have counsellors to support early adoption of breastfeeding practices so that children are not encouraged to bottle feed with tinned milk or any form of liquid milk other than breastmilk.
With the current promotion of facility delivery, it is highly important to include counsellors to support new mothers on breastfeeding.
Further, elected union parishad female members can be pioneers in transforming communities into baby-friendly communities where all new mothers will get support.
There is another recommendation that the education curriculum should include breastfeeding as part of nutrition discussion in high schools.
A large portion of women are working in the readymade garments where they are not entitled to maternity leave with full payment and facilities for breastfeeding aren’t available.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment can influence the garments’ owner association to comply with existing laws and support breastfeeding.
There is a high need for mass communication to promote and support breastfeeding across Bangladesh.
In spite of current progress on breastfeeding, we should consider further improvement areas so that children are safe and grow up healthy and intelligent so that they can contribute towards building a “Sonar Bangla” in the future.
Shaikh Shahed Rahman is the Chief of Party, SUCHANA, Save the children in Bangladesh.