Mia Sutanto
    Category: Inspiring Women 2015 By : Ulisari Eslita Read : 1432 Date : Wednesday, June 10, 2015 - 01:21:43

    Ahmad Zamroni / Forbes Indonesia

    While it may seem commonsense to breastfeed babies, many Indonesian mothers have for years been encouraged not to do it, instead being asked to feed their babies with formula. Fighting this misconception has become Mia Sutanto’s personal battle, as the chairwoman and co-founder of the Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers’ Association (AIMI), the largest organization in the country promoting breastfeeding, with chapters in 15 provinces (roughly half of all provinces).

    Mia started the all-volunteer organization in 2007. The group advocates for the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding, both for the mother and the baby. Among the advantages, says Mia, breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months. Breast milk also builds the baby’s immune system and may also have long-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of obesity later on. Breastfeeding has also been associated with higher IQs, and improved mental and physical health of both the mother and the baby.

    Formula, in contrast, is expensive, especially for lower-income families. Also, formula is fed from dirty bottles or made with unclean water, it may do more harm than good—again a problem more common in low-income families, who have less access to clean water or the facilities to sterilize bottles.

    In fact, about 17%, or 5.5 million infants and toddlers, suffer from malnutrition, which also causes half of all child mortality in Indonesia. Unfortunately, according to Ministry of Health data, in 2013, only 54% of infants got exclusive breastfeeding in the country, and even fewer toddlers continue to breastfeed until the recommended age of two (exclusive means the baby receives only breast milk, and no other solids or liquids, even water).

    The government has been fighting malnutrition for years, and one big step to eradicate it is to promote breastfeeding. Recently adopted government guidelines include recommendations for exclusive breastfeeding for babies until six months old. Mia was motivated to start AIMI because even she felt she did not breastfeed her first baby enough. “I breastfed my firstborn only for 10 months,” says Mia.

    Lacking information during her early days of being a mother, Mia then decided to join the Breastfeeding Counselor Training, which was held by Indonesia’s Lactation Center (Selasi) and met Utami Roesli, the founder of Selasi, a pediatrician who aggressively promoted breast milk for babies. Starting from there, Mia who used to be a lawyer, then joined an online community for mothers called Breast Milk for Babies. “There, we supported each other, with information and experience sharing, and of course met with other breastfeeding mothers. I found my support system there, as most of us were facing the same problem,” she remembers.

    Joining the online community was a turning point for Mia, as she learned a lot from others about breastfeeding. She co-founded AIMI in April 2007 together with 21 others in order to reach out to more mothers. “AIMI’s main goal is that all mothers in Indonesia breastfeed their babies and all babies in the country are breastfed,” says Mia.