Legislation could support breastfeeding practices to grow to 100 per cent
Samoa should develop a national breastfeeding policy and ratify international maternity protections to better support women with new-borns, says a public health specialist.
The United Nations reports 81 per cent of Samoa’s babies are being breastfed from birth, and seven in 10 are being exclusively breastfed for their first six months, which are results to be commended.
But the remaining 19 per cent of babies need to be addressed, and Christina Soti-Ulberg believes both national and international plans could go a long way to improve the situation.
Ms. Soti-Ulberg from the Ministry of Health was a principal investigator in the Yale School of Public Health and M.O.H research into breastfeeding in Samoa in 2017.
Their research found generally the different elements required to have a strong breastfeeding culture were present, but that funding and resources were near invisible.
First up among five recommendations was to develop and implement a National Breastfeeding Policy and Strategic Action Plan.
“Having that implemented will help ensure breastfeeding remains a priority in government and is not watered down by being integrated into other policies such as non-communicable diseases policies, or nutrition policies,” she said.
She also backed recommendation number three, for Samoa to ratify the International Labour Organization Maternity Protection Convention 2000, as a key recommendation that could make a difference.
Samoa is one of 149 countries that has not ratified the convention, which outlines the rights of women to maternity leave and their rights not to be terminated from a job during her pregnancy or maternity leave, among other issues.
It states women under the convention should be entitled to no less than 14 weeks maternity leave.
To the private sector, Samoa currently legally offers four weeks leave with pay and two without, or six weeks leave on two-thirds pay and five paid paternity leave days a year.
Meanwhile public sector’s women are entitled to 12 weeks maternity leave with full pay.
In 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council assessment on the rights of women in Samoa found this disparity between public and private sector a “concern.”
But on the ground, Ms. Soti-Ulberg said she is optimistic about improved awareness on the value of breastfeeding.
Between the Demographic Health Surveys of 2009 and 2014, exclusive breastfeeding of babies up to six months old shot up from 51 to 70 per cent.
The 2019 survey is being carried out and it is expected it will be released in 2020. Ms. Soti-Ulberg said she hopes to see yet another increase in its results.
“However it is a continuous process,” she added. She wants to see infant formula marketing regulated in legislation to lessen its influence on family choices.
In 1981, The World Health Organisation produced the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk substitutes, to ensure (among other reasons) that substitutes are not “marketed or distributed in ways that may interfere with the protection and promotion of breastfeeding.”
The code applies to all health workers, manufacturers and distributors of infant feeding products, and in August the M.O.H revealed they had discovered 12 per cent of distributors in Upolu were breaching the promotional aspects of the code.