The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has embarked on a two-year Exclusive Breastfeeding Pilot project in St. Catherine and Clarendon.
This follows a Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) study conducted in the two parishes in June, to ascertain the knowledge, practice and attitude of health care workers, mothers and family members to breastfeeding.
The findings of the study, which were disclosed at a Forum held Wednesday (December 9) at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, pointed to the need for specific interventions to ensure that the goal of increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates by five per cent, are realised over the life of the project.
Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant is given breast milk, and no other liquids or solids, for the first six months of life. Early Childhood Development Specialist at UNICEF, Dr. Lola Ramocan, lamented that breastfeeding practices in Jamaica are not very encouraging, noting that exclusive breastfeeding continues to decline.
Early Childhood Development Specialist at the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Dr. Lola Ramocan, (right) speaking with Director of the Health Promotion and Protection Division in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Eva Lewis-Fuller, prior to the start of a forum at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, on Wednesday (December 9), to discuss the findings of a baseline study on breast feeding conducted in St. Catherine and Clarendon.
Citing a 2005 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, she pointed out that only 15 per cent of children at six months are exclusively breastfed, which is far lower than the recommended rate of 70 per cent at six months.
Dr. Ramocan noted, however, that it was encouraging that the Ministry of Health is committed to raising the rates.
“That is why together, with UNICEF’s support, we are experimenting in these two parishes, to increase the exclusive breastfeeding rate…before we scale up and make a national push,” she said. She also pointed out that the KAP study is a critical aspect, as it will help to measure the impact of the pilot project.
She also said that the study was designed to gauge how over 250 women in the community, as well as over 50 health care workers, feel about breastfeeding, what they know about it and how much they encourage or put breastfeeding into practice.
“The findings have revealed several key areas that will need to inform our interventions in the parishes, as we progress with the project,” she said. She added the study revealed that many health care workers do not know enough about the unique benefits of breastfeeding.
“They don’t have the skills and know-how they need to effectively counsel and support mothers to exclusively breastfeed, and overall are not promoting exclusive breastfeeding as much as they should,” she noted.
Dr. Ramocan pointed out that a disturbing finding, is that among the pregnant women and new mothers, most considered formula to be comparable in quality with breast milk and tended to introduce it an early age. In addition, the majority of women surveyed, were of the belief that alternative foods should be introduced into the baby’s diet before the age of six months.
Dr. Ramocan said they engage in this practice, being either unaware that the infant should be breastfed exclusively for this period, or resisting the idea of giving their children nothing but breast milk in this period.
“Indeed, most women introduce water at an early age – finding it difficult to believe that that breast milk supplies all the water needed by an infant who is exclusively breastfed,” she added.
Director of the Health Promotion and Protection Division in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Eva Lewis-Fuller, expressed surprise at the deficiencies within the health worker group that were uncovered in the study.
“It was very disheartening that we have such deficiencies in our knowledge, in our skills, attitudes, with regards to breastfeeding, I didn’t realise that there was widespread lack of knowledge and that the attitude was that, ‘well formula and breast milk are comparable’,” she said.