The Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation and Helen Keller International Cambodia officially announced the opening of a dedicated breastfeeding room to provide female civil servants a suitable place to breastfeed or express milk when returning from their three months of maternity leave.

The launch was held at the ministry headquarters on September 8, with around 100 participants.

Ministry secretary of state Kim Touch lauded the ministry for taking the initiative to build the facility, saying that breast milk is the most important nutrition for infants.

“I believe that ensuring our children are physically healthy and have good brain development, with a corresponding high level of intelligence, is an important contribution to promoting the development of science, technology and innovation. This sector demands human resources with a high level of creativity and intelligence and is essential to accelerate Cambodia’s socio-economic growth,” he said.

Touch added that if every institution enables women to continue breastfeeding by providing a safe place for them to do so, then the rate of breastfeeding in the Kingdom will increase.

“I appeal to female civil servants with children under 2 years old or women who have just given birth to breastfeed their children until they are two years of age. I recommend that other ministries and institutions establish dedicated breastfeeding spaces,” he said.

Breastfeeding contributes to reducing maternal, infant and child mortality and helps keep children healthy and intelligent. In order to improve the nutritional status of women and children, Cambodia has committed to increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for infants and children from zero to six months of age to 85 per cent by 2030.

Touch said scientific studies have shown that creating a safe environment and giving women enough time off to breastfeed or express milk has positive effects on new mothers’ wellbeing. This results in increased productivity and reduces staff absences, as well as lowering staff health insurance costs.

Tung Rathavy, an adviser to the Ministry of Health, said the promotion of breastfeeding is a top priority for the government in general and her ministry in particular.

“We already have a clear understanding of the value of breast milk for health, physical growth, children’s mental and emotional development, and national economic development,” she said.

“Scientific evidence shows that breastfeeding immediately during the first hours after birth can prevent infant mortality by about 20 per cent. Infants who are breastfed exclusively from birth until six months of age have 11 times less cases of diarrhea and 15 times less cases of pneumonia than children who were not breastfed,” she noted.

Rathavy said that failing to breastfeed as recommended could seriously affect children’s cognitive development. Children who were not fully breastfed had less developed brains and an average of 2.6 IQ points less, she added.

Hou Kroeun, director of Helen Keller International Cambodia, said this is an excellent collaboration.

“I hope that this project will contribute to Cambodia’s commitment to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for infants,” he said.

The international NGO has provided equipment and materials such as refrigerators, tables, chairs, fans, breast pumps, hand towels and hand soap for the facility. It also produced communication materials to change behaviour among the public.