BREASTFEEDING advocates in Malaysia say urban poor mothers are not equipped with the right information, confidence and tools to ensure their babies are breastfed.
Unicef Malaysia had in its study published in February found the prevalence of malnutrition increased among children aged five and below residing in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur.
Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, had on May 22, held up the study during her first press conference as deputy prime minister, saying it was “an important report”.
The report ‘Children Without: A study of urban child poverty and deprivation in low-cost flats in Kuala Lumpur’ – which involved 966 heads of households and 2,142 children from 17 public housing flats in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya – showed 15 per cent of the children were underweight, 22 per cent stunting and 20 per cent wasting.
The prevalence of stunting and wasting was higher among Chinese children while Indian children had a higher percentage of underweight and overweight issues.
Among the recommendations of the report include ensuring mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for at least six months.
Malaysian Breastfeeding Association founder Siti Norjinah Moin said it was crucial the private sector undertake more initiatives to encourage those from lower income groups to breastfeed.
“People say breastfeeding is easy. But when the poor face problems, especially at the initial stages of breastfeeding, they do not know where to seek help,” Siti Norjinah said.
“These mothers could be illiterate or semi-illiterate. They may also not receive guidance as there may not be enough lactation nurses at government clinics.”
She said mothers should not be blamed when they give up breastfeeding at an early stage.
“They give up as they have no confidence. They feel their milk is of low quality and supply is insufficient.
“They turn to formula milk and dilute the milk as they want to stretch the supply due to their poor income.”
World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action local governance taskforce member Nor Kamariah Mohamad Alwi said mothers struggle to breastfeed due to the lack of support.
She said there were working mothers from the urban poor group who cannot afford to buy breast pumps and those with informal work are forced to return to work a week after giving birth as they need the money. Hand expression is also not practical for this group.
“Mothers with informal jobs do not have a proper place to express or store their milk.”
Malaysian Breastfeeding Peer Counsellor Association president Dr Nadrah Arfizah Arifi said those among the urban poor know breastfeeding is important but are discouraged when they do not get proper advice.
“If the education level of these mothers was good, they would understand information passed down by nurses at health clinics and would breastfeed their children. But not all of them are well educated,” said Dr Nadrah.
“When nurses ask those who are not well educated if their breastfeeding is going well, they nod. Yet, they are feeding (their children) formula milk at home.”
Her association trains mothers with no medical background to become peer counsellors so they can assist other mothers.
Dr Nadrah, whose association has trained over 555 peer counsellors since 2010, admitted the breastfeeding peer counsellor network among mothers from the urban poor group is still inadequate. “We are a non-governmental organisation and although we charge RM350, it’s a big sum for those from the lower income group.
“Corporate funding will encourage urban poor mothers to attend training and be peer counsellors so they can extend a helping hand to other mothers in their community,” she added.