Breastfeeding can help reduce 13 percent of the rate mortality of children under five years old, or save about 6 million children from infectious diseases, a health official has said.

Health Deputy Minister Nguyen Viet Tien made the statement at a ceremony to launch Vietnam’s Breastfeeding Week 2014 in Hanoi on August 1, which was jointly organised by the Ministry of Health, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Alive & Thrive project (A&T).

Several activities during the week will raise public awareness on the importance of breastfeeding to help children grow physically and mentally well.

A number of scientific researches show that feeding babies with breast milk but nothing for the first six months of their life is beneficial for the health of newborns as mother’s milk provides the necessary nutrients for the babies to grow and protects them from several diseases, Tien said.

In June 2012, the National Assembly adopted the amended Labour Law, which extends maternity leave to six months. The NA also passed a Law on Advertising, which includes a ban on the marketing of breast milk substitutes for children less than 24 months. Both laws took effect in 2013.

These moves have made it easier for mothers to only breastfeed during the first six months of a child’s life, as well as in the following months.

A national action plan on bringing up babies in the 2012-15 period is implemented in the country, focusing on taking care for children within 1,000 first days of their lives to ensure a maximum mental and physical health for them. According to the National Institute of Nutrition, only 19.6 percent of children in Vietnam were breastfed completely in the first six months of their lives in 2010. Meanwhile, there has been a rise in the rate of children bottle-fed in the first six months of their lives in recent years.

Roger Mathisen, Chief Representative of the UNICEF’s nutrition programme in Vietnam said that the adoption of the amended Labour Law and the Law on Advertising has made Vietnam become one of leading countries in Asia Pacific in developing protective laws that benefit mothers and their children.

The same day, a photo exhibition highlighting the invaluable worth of breast milk was also kicked off at the Vietnam Women Museum in Hanoi to respond to the week.-VNA