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Breast-feeding is the best for babies, but social rules get in the way

Indraswari ,  Bandung   |  Thu, 07/31/2008 10:24 AM  |  Opinion

The Jakarta Post reported on July 7, 2008, malnutrition in Indonesia is linked to the decline in breast-feeding. The report quotes the head of the health and nutrition section at UNICEF Indonesia, Anne H. Vincent, who said in 2007 only 7.2 percent of children in the country were breast-fed exclusively until the age of six months, down from 7.8 percent in 2002. She stated exclusive breast-feeding for six months can save more than 30,000 Indonesian children from dying each year, while on average Indonesian children are breast-fed exclusively for less than two months.

The report reveals, from January to June this year, some 31 malnutrition-related deaths of children under the age of five were reported in East Nusa Tenggara, 20 in West Nusa Tenggara, 10 in Lebak, Banten, and five in Bone, South Sulawesi.

According to Vincent, the primary cause of malnutrition is poor infant feeding practices, meaning inadequate breast-feeding and complementary feeding. Barriers to breast-feeding in Indonesia include low awareness of the benefits, due to inadequate counseling and support, and a lack of supporting facilities for working mothers.

Scientific evidence shows breast-feeding is beneficial to both babies and mothers. It provides rich nutrition for babies and boosts their immunity system while reducing the risk of breast cancer for mothers as reported in the UK medical journal, The Lancet.

What is the relationship between breast-feeding and gender issues? Women have the right to breast-feed as codified in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, just as babies have the right to receive breast milk in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A statement made at the 2002 Second World Alliance of Breast-feeding Action Global Forum in Tanzania further specifies women can fully exercise this right only within a gender equal social and political environment, whereby women’s contribution to productive and reproductive work, including nurturing, is recognized and all forms of breast-feeding support are accessible.

Childcare — including breast-feeding — always takes place within a social and cultural context. An African proverb says it takes the whole village to raise a child. Today’s modern capitalist society instead leaves childcare to nuclear families if not to women alone.

How long and how often a woman is able to breast-feed her baby depends on various social factors.

For all mothers, lack of a parents’ room in public places hinders their opportunities to breast-feed their babies outside their homes. In Bandung, where many shopping malls have been built in recent years, I have found only one mall with such a room and it is far below the standard I expect from a parents’ room.

For working mothers, the breast-feeding issue is many issues at once: It is a health, economic, labor and human rights issue. Maternity leave, which lasts for three months only, proves to be a barrier for women to exclusively breast-feed their babies for six months as recommended by health practitioners. Long distance travel from home to work and long working hours with rigid schedules make it difficult for them to continue breast-feeding once they return to work.

Bringing babies to work is not always an option as very few workplaces provide childcare services. Neither is there adequate private space for working mothers to breast-feed or express breast milk during working hours. Many women have no choice but to use the rest rooms. These may be adequate if they are clean and there is no need to queue.

The late executive director of UNICEF, James Grant, stated “The promotion of breast-feeding must not be seen as an excuse to exclude women from the labor force. The burden should no longer fall on women to choose between breast-feeding and work. The burden is on society to facilitate breast-feeding and indeed child care”.

The above problems demonstrate women’s needs are not accommodated in public policy. City planners fail to recognize these needs. Workplace designers and managers also fail to provide adequate facilities to support working mothers.

I have not even described other important aspects of breast-feeding such as policies on women’s nutritional status and promotion of breast milk substitutes.

The upcoming World Breast-Feeding Week 2008 falls on Aug. 1-7, which, in conjunction with the Olympics, has adopted the theme “Mother Support: Going for the Gold” ( Let us afford greater support for mothers so they can fulfill their rights to breast-feed their babies leading in turn to a healthier future generation.

The writer is a lecturer in the Department of Public Administration, School of Social and Political Science at Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung.

Sumber : thejakartapost


August 1, 2008 - Posted by | Article

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