By exclusively breastfeeding infants for the first six months of their lives, mothers could prevent over 4,000 Vietnamese children from dying each year, according to a report released on February 18 by Save the Children.

The report also stated that 22 percent of all newborn deaths - which account for about half of child deaths in Vietnam could be prevented if infants were breastfed within their first hour of life.

According to Pham Sinh Huy, country director of Save the Children in Vietnam, breastfeeding is the most effective way to prevent the diseases and mal-nutrition that can cause child deaths.

At least 30 percent of the children in Vietnam suffer from stunted growth, which breastfeeding can help prevent. Yet less than one fifth of Vietnamese children are breastfed exclusively.

“In order to encourage mothers to breastfeed exclusively, they need to be informed about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, baby-friendly hospitals are a great way to ensure that the doctors and nurses are advising them correctly,” said Huy.

The Vietnamese government has supported a baby-friendly hospital initiative for the past two decades, but in 2008, only 59 of the country’s 12,146 hospitals were certified baby-friendly. Many cited reasons such as inadequate financial support and a lack of incentives for participation.

In 2012, the government also passed legislation to provide mothers with six months of maternity leave.-VNA