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Weeklong push to make Samoa breastfeeding-friendly

Samoa is marking World Breastfeeding Week under the theme: 'Empower parents, enable breastfeeding'.

Held from August 1-7, the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) says it wants to dedicate the week to protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding through parent-friendly workplaces, encouraging gender equality and "social protection" policies.

According to the Becoming Breastfeeding Friendly policy brief, seven out of 10 Samoan infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.

"Despite the fact that 81 per cent of infants are breastfed within the first hour of birth, only 70 per cent are exclusively breastfed for six months in Samoa," the brief notes. 

"The United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organisation recommend six months of exclusive breastfeeding, as it provides adequate nutrition for optimal growth and development."

According to the World Health Organisation, among Pacific Islands states Samoa is ranked third with 70 per cent of exclusive breastfeeding of up to six months, with Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in first and second with percentages of 76 per cent and 72 per cent. 

As much as breastfeeding is considered a natural act it is also a learned behaviour, the Ministry says. 

"Mothers and other caregivers require active support for establishing and sustaining appropriate breastfeeding," its material says.

The health department says it is seeking to identify evidence-based ways to promote an increase in breastfeeding rates.

Mother of three, Silipi Ah See of Faala Palauli, agrees and supports the efforts of M.O.H. fully, saying she can attest to the health benefits of breastfeeding.

"The reason why I support this movement every year is because breastfeeding is very important, both for the child and the mother," she said. 

"First for attachment and bonding between the two, and for me, until my babies don't want to be breastfed anymore, I keep breastfeeding, even up to 5-years-old."

She believes that every child deserves to be breast fed and that breastfeeding mothers should not limit their child's access to breast milk to just six months.

In efforts to promote breastfeeding throughout the country, the M.O.H. is conducting community awareness programs at all district hospitals for both Upolu and Savaii.

Also during breastfeeding week, Radio 2AP are inviting nurses, doctors and nutritionists to speak on breast feeding and health on their talk back and morning shows.

A Facebook photo competition is also underway with the participants taking a photo with a yellow sei and captioning it with the hashtag, #BreastfeedingWeStillOn.

The M.O.H. has come up with six priority recommendations and Call to Action for this years World Breastfeeding Week following consultation from various public health and civil society organisations.

1) Develop and Implement a National Breastfeeding Policy and Strategic Action Plan

2) Strengthen capacity to monitor and evaluate all breastfeeding activities.

3) Ratify International Labour Organization Maternity Protection Convention 2000.

4) Have champions on Breastfeeding to become role models to advocate for breastfeeding.

5) Create a national budget line for breastfeeding activities.

6) Seek and hire a national counsellor and trainer position for breastfeeding.

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