In this week’s Myanmar Times health issue, we interviewed Dr Arkar Chan Min from the Yangon Region Public Health Department about taking care of your infant.
Nandar: How can we prevent our infants from getting sick during the rainy season?
Dr Arkar: They should be kept with mothers, for comfort and to keep them warm. We need to feed them breast milk, and also make sure they’re protected from mosquito bites.
Nandar: What kind of food should the mothers avoid during the rainy season?
Dr Arkar: There aren’t any particular foods to avoid in the rainy season. Mother’s, like all of us, should try to eat fresh food, vegetables and fruits. Make sure to eat only fresh meat too, which has not been in the sun or out of the fridge for too long. They should be mindful about having too much salt in their diet, which can cause high blood pressure.
Nandar: What are the most common infant health problems mothers need to watch out for?
Dr Arkar: Infants are prone to many different health problems, as they are young and have an underdeveloped immune system. The main diseases are respiratory conditions, diarrhea and fever. Fevers and infections can be caused by touching the baby with dirty hands, sometimes shaving the baby’s head or applying too much thanaka. Also, it’s important to clean the baby’s feeding bottles carefully, or not allowing strangers to hold or kiss your baby, as these are all risks for spreading bacteria and viruses.
Nandar: How can we make our babies strong and healthy?
Dr Arkar: Breastfeeding is important. As breast milk contains immunoglobulin that can enhance the baby’s immune system, it is important to feed infants breast milk. If the baby is formula-fed, it’s important to clean the feeding bottles and pacifiers to reduce the chance of diarrhea. People should always wash their hands carefully and avoid smoking around babies – that includes cigarette smoke, anti-mosquito coils and joss sticks too.
Nandar: What else can we do to make our children healthier?
Dr Arkar: The most important is to provide breast milk, but it’s also a good idea to vaccinate babies to help protect them from conditions like tetanus and rubella. Some of these are provided by the government’s vaccination program.
Nandar: There are some traditions that can be harmful to newborn babies. Can you tell us about some of those?
Dr Arkar: Yes, there are some traditions that aren’t very healthy for babies, like filling turmeric and other types of powder into the umbilical cord before it completely heals. That’s not very sanitary, and can delay the healing process. Sometimes parents also like to smear lime powder or stick betel leaves on the baby’s fontanel (the delicate part of the baby’s skull) to cool them down, but this can harm the baby’s head.
It’s also important that mothers continue to eat healthy food. When I worked at the Yankin Children’s Hospital a two year old baby was crying continuously, and the mother had swelling on her body. We gave her a full examination, and we later found out that the mother only ate dried fish soup during the day. This had an effect on the baby – it was suffering from beri beri, which is a vitamin B1 deficiency. Beri beri causes swelling in the liver and heart, and can be fatal.
Nandar: Do you think mothers of newborns have adequate knowledge to take care of their babies? What kind of knowledge do they need?
Dr Arkar: I think most mothers have good knowledge of their baby’s health. The main thing is going to a hospital or clinic when they become pregnant, that will help them to have a safe and healthy pregnancy.
I’d also recommend folic acid, which comes from lots of green vegetables. This can help with general health in pregnancy, and prevent some birth defects. Mother’s shouldn’t be too picky about what they eat, so long as they eat meat, fish and vegetables in the right amounts. Try to avoid barbecued food, and make sure your food is fully cooked.
Nandar: Can babies die if their mothers don’t have the right knowledge about health?
Dr Arkar: Yes. For example, if a pregnant mother suffers from preeclampsia, high blood pressure, diabetes, placental insufficiency or postpartum bleeding, this can cause problems – even a miscarriage. If a pregnant mother consumes alcohol, tobacco or is pregnant as a teenager, the pregnancy is a danger not only to the child’s but her life too.
Nandar: Is there anything you’d like to add about Myanmar?
Dr Arkar: The newborn death rate in Myanmar was 24 for every 1,000 babies – that’s 2.4 pc. I would like to see this number decrease, so being aware of pregnancy and a mother’s health is important.
There are four things I’d say, in general, that mother’s should be mindful of when caring for their infants:
(1)Feed breast milk to baby until they are around two years old
(2)Make sure they get the right vaccinations
(3)Eat a healthy diet, for the mother and baby
(4)Become more educated about healthcare.
– Translation by the translation team