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Millions of Indonesian babies are missing out on the best start in life

New report by UNICEF, WHO and IBFAN reveals shortfalls in legislation to protect breastfeeding

JAKARTA, 13 May 2016 – More than half of the 5 million children born each year in Indonesia do not fully benefit from breastfeeding during the first years of life and gaps in national legislation are contributing to this situation. 

“There has been important progress in breastfeeding rates in recent years. However, millions of babies miss out on this best possible start in life because parents receive conflicting information about what’s best for their young children,” said Harriet Torlesse, Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF Indonesia. 

UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health recommend that babies are breastfed immediately after delivery and are fed nothing but breast milk for their first 6 months, no water, no other food, just breast milk. From 6 months to at least 2 years, breastfeeding should continue, and be complemented with other safe and nutritionally adequate foods. Yet in Indonesia, despite a high number of women (96 per cent) breastfeeding their child at some point, only 42 per cent of infants aged under 6 months are exclusively breastfed. And by the time children approach their second birthday, just 55 per cent are still given breast milk.

A new report explains that the promotion and advertising of milk formulas and growing-up milks for children aged less than 3 years is partly to blame. The report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) points to the importance of national legislation in protecting breastfeeding by banning the promotion and advertising of these products. 

Of the 194 countries analysed in the report, Indonesia is one of the 135 that have in place some form of legal measure related to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes and subsequent, relevant resolutions adopted by the World Health Assembly (the Code). However, the legislation in Indonesia only protects exclusive breastfeeding during a child’s first 6 months. 

“While we should continue our efforts to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates, we must also protect, promote and support continued breastfeeding until children are at least 2 years old,” says Harriet Torlesse, Chief of Nutrition, UNICEF Indonesia. 

Breast milk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean, environmentally friendly and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Yet inappropriate marketing of breast-milk substitutes continues to undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding rates and duration worldwide.

The current legislation in Indonesia prohibits manufacturers and distributors from promoting and advertising formula milk to infants under 6 months in health facilities. Also, health facilities and health workers are not permitted to sell, give or promote formula to these infants. In addition, there are some limited restrictions on the labelling and advertising of milk products for infants under one year. 

However, a recent study in Indonesia found over 1,000 incidents of non-compliance with the Code by various manufacturers and distributors. “This is deeply troubling because incorrect and misleading information through advertising and promotion by baby milk companies and retailers confuses parents and undermines their confidence in breastfeeding” adds Ms Torlesse.

The breast-milk substitute business is a big one, with sales forecasted to reach IDR 25.8 trillion in Indonesia this year.  But if children were breastfed according to the recommendations, the country would save IDR 20 trillion each year in health care costs and wages: New analysis conducted by the University of Padjajaran with UNICEF and Alive and Thrive, has revealed that improved breastfeeding in Indonesia could save 5,377 child lives and IDR 3 trillion in health costs every year by preventing childhood illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhoea. In addition, boosting breastfeeding could save IDR 17 trillion in wages each year due to improvements in cognitive ability and increased earnings in later life. 

To truly be in line with Ministry recommendations on breastfeeding, the scope of the national legislation should be extended to include the promotion and advertising of all milk products that are specifically marketed for feeding infants and young children up to the age of 3 years. 

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About UNICEF:  UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  

For further information, please contact: 

Kinanti Pinta Karana, UNICEF Indonesia, +62 8158805842, 

Kate Rose, UNICEF Indonesia, HP: + 62 8118 714894, 



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