by Mai Hien
Breastfeeding felt natural and right for Nguyen Minh Thu, a worker at a garment factory in Ha Noi, but doing so meant struggling against pressure to use infant formula.
Because she had a caesarean and had to take antibiotics, she was producing less milk for her baby. Her mother-in-law often asked, "Do you have enough milk for your daughter?" Her mother-in-law advised her to feed the baby with formula to make her grow up quickly and become the plump baby many Vietnamese wish for.
Thu tried to explain to her mother-in-law that breast milk is actually the best thing for the baby and that she just wanted her baby to be healthy.
Meanwhile, many mothers in Viet Nam do not breastfeed because of a false belief that mother's milk is inadequate, less nutritious.
Nguyen Thi Phuong, an accountant in Ha Noi, said she decided not to breastfeed her baby boy because she had to go to work after two months and she didn't want her breasts to become ugly. "Many children grow up quickly despite not being breastfed. Modern life gives us a lot of choices, including how to feed our babies," she said.
"There are a variety of formulas ranging from colostrums milk to ones for 5-year olds on the market. With such a variety of nutrients, as they state in their advertisements, I think it is better than breast milk," Phuong said.
The pressure of careers, work hours and unsubstantiated opinions has created a bad habit among many Vietnamese mothers, opined Nguyen Thi Nham, 64, a resident in Ha Noi's Ha Dong District.
"They do not want to breastfeed their babies and just give them formula milk," she said.
She traced it back to the 1980s when milk formula was scarce in Viet Nam. The only kind of milk that people had at that time was condensed milk. "I think that breast-feeding helps cement the relationship between mother and newborn," Nham said.
As a mother, I agree with her. When my second child was seven-months old, I had to stop breastfeed him for about a month. During that period, I had to use a breast pump to help me maintain breastfeeding.
In the past, whenever a child needed milk, mothers were willing to ask for breast milk from other breastfeeding mothers. Now this happens rarely because of the availability of infant formula or fear that infectious diseases can be transmitted through breast milk.
Nguyen Thu Huong, a resident in Thanh Xuan District, said she doesn't want to ask for breast milk from other mothers because she doesn't know whether it's harmful to her baby.
"Because I produce little milk to feed my baby so I buy infant formula as a supplement," she said.
Recently, however, people have started to relearn the true value of breast milk, an indispensable food source for babies.
On some social network and forums like webtretho.com, mothers have posted notices asking for or offering breast milk.
A mother nicknamed Misu–Mimi wrote on the website, "My child is 22-days old. I make little milk for her despite the fact that I have tried many methods to produce more milk, I even use a breast pump.
My child cannot take formula milk so I want to ask other breastfeeding mothers to donate breast milk for her."
The appeal attracted attention among website-goers, and some offered with frozen breast milk.
It seems that a growing number of Vietnamese understand the importance of breast milk.
Infant formulas cannot match the exact chemical make-up of human milk, especially the proteins, hormones and antibodies that fight diseases.
The story of Trinh Tuan, a single dad, who struggled to find breast milk to raise his daughter who lost her mother when she was just 10 days old, inspired others to believe, or at least research the value of breast milk.
Tuan established the Bank of Breast Milk community, a nation-wide system that provides breast milk to babies in need.
"From my experience searching for breast milk for my daughter, I want to help other babies benefit from this invaluable resource," he said.
The Milk Bank, founded by Tuan in 2013, has attracted more than 19,000 members so far.
World Breastfeeding Week starts this Saturday, August 1. The tides are turning and more and more Vietnamese mothers are beginning to understand the importance of breast milk. Hopefully events like this can strengthen the new current. — VNS