Nguyen Ba Thuy, deputy minister of health , said the call was made on Thursday by the Ministry of Health and the United Nations to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.

Officials decided to get active after a recent survey showed that only 10 per cent of infants were breastfed exclusively during their first six months, said Nguyen Duy Khe, director of the ministry's Maternal and Child Health Department. 'Breastfeeding during the first six months will reduce the malnutrition rate.'

Khe said the measures included raising awareness among mothers, enhancing communication skills for health workers and banning milk adverts saying it can replace breast milk.

Breast milk contains the cells, hormones and antibodies to fight disease that infant formula does not have.

Also, Vietnam's labour law stipulates that mothers have to return work after four months of maternity leave.

According to the ministry, Vietnam has one of the highest rates of underweight children wordwide. The proportion of underweight children under five fell to 18.9 per cent in 2009. However, the rate of children with stunted growth remains high at 32.6 per cent last year.

The country is trying to reduce the rate of underweight children to 18 per cent and children with stunted growth to under 30 per cent whilst keeping the number of overweight kids to under 5 per cent in 2010.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - July 30, 2010