My mother tried to convince brand-new postpartum me that my crying newborn was hungry because I wasn’t making enough milk. I would have entirely believed her if I wasn’t so precise in reaching the front door with squirting breast milk from our living room couch. My mom had a bunch of “Lao remedies” at the ready anyway. She would spoon-drop some water into his wailing mouth. She also suggested the most common Lao baby feeding method, regurgitated sticky rice to make him feel full longer. Sticky rice for infants is the Laotian equivalent to what we know as rice cereal in Western culture. The idea is the same as well where the introduction of solid foods will fill out their little bellies. Well, of course, introducing a near-empty food so early can be quite harmful to children’s developing gut and can cause problems such as food allergies, stunted development, and breastfeeding difficulty. The infant mortality rate for Laos is 70 per 1000 with dismal exclusive breastfeeding rates in part to old wives tales and cultural traditions. I myself was fed sticky rice at just 2 days old, exaggerated by my mom but I really think she meant two weeks old (I hope, I pray, oh god). An unsure result of that choice or not, I have battled a lifelong severe food allergy.
My case is different compared to actual infants born and raised and fed in Laos whereas I was born in America. Most children do not survive past the toddler years or have developmental issues past this. To counter this, UNICEF launched an exclusive breastfeeding campaign to areas of Laos to remind new mothers that babies do not need any other food beside breast milk for the first six months. Their goal was to increase the percentage to 60% of Lao women to exclusively breastfeed for six months from within the first hour of birth. Results showed a 10% point increase in 2011/12 compared to 2006 for initiating within hour of birth and a 14% point increase in EBF rate (0-5m) in 2011/12 compared to 2006 for exclusively breastfeeding until six months.
They achieved this mostly through word of mouth and trying to reach “village elders” because any respectable Laotian knows better than to decline an elder feeding their baby the traditional sticky rice. If they were to know better then they would help raise more awareness to the harm, despite the rich tradition. They also were able to distribute their efforts through media such as posters, apparel, and radio spots. My favorite has to be this video set in a rural homestead in the Laos countryside. How cute is this: