Feeding babies with nothing but breast milk 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 diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea, a health official has said.

Health Deputy Minister Nguyen Viet Tien stated this at a ceremony to launch Vietnam ’s Breastfeeding Week 2012 in Hanoi on August 1.

The week, with the theme ‘the road to lifelong health begins with breastfeeding”, is jointly organised by the Ministry of Health, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Alive & Thrive project.

According to Tien, in June 2012, the National Assembly adopted the amended Labour Law, which extends maternity leave to six months and takes effect on May 1, 2013.

The NA also passed a Law on Advertising, which includes a ban on the marketing of breast milk substitutes for children under 24 months.

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, he said.

Several activities during the week will raise awareness on the importance of breastfeeding to ensure that all children are breastfed and develop well physically and intellectually in the future, noted Tien.

Jesper Moller, UNICEF’s Acting Chief Representative in Vietnam , said that by voting to extend maternity leave to six months, Vietnam has become a leader in developing protective laws that safeguard the well-being of children and mothers.

When mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding, it leads to healthier children and this reduces the financial outlay spent each year on illnesses caused by poor feeding, he said.

Therefore, Vietnam needs to work with the business community to create a child-friendly working environment, which will enable mothers to continue breastfeeding after six months, he concluded.

According to the National Institute of Nutrition, only 62 percent of the 1.5 million Vietnamese children born annually are breastfed in the first few hours of their life and only one out of five mothers exclusively breastfeed their children in the first six months of their lives.-VNA