Babies are meant to be breastfed
Breast milk protects infants from contaminants and harmful ingredients found in alternative products.
Mothers need support to make sure babies receive the gold standard in infant nutrition.
KUALA LUMPUR, 23 July 2008 – Babies are meant to be breastfed. Research has consistently proven that mother’s milk is the best nutrition for babies, and there is simply no infant formula product, no matter how good the claims, that can match the superior nutrition of mother’s milk.
Yet, in recent years, only 2 in 7 infants in Malaysia are exclusively breastfed for the first four months of life, two months short of the six months recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Instead of giving their infants the best start to life, parents are opting to replace mother’s milk – the gold standard in infant nutrition – with inferior substitutes in the form of formula milk, cow’s milk, condensed milk, evaporated milk and even coffee, tea and sugar water.
Threatening infant survival with substitutes
“Not only are these substitutes inferior, worse, they are also dangerous for babies to consume,” says UNICEF Malaysia Representative Mr. Youssouf Oomar. “Giving an infant any food or drink other than breast milk increases the risk of diarrhoea, pneumonia, ear infections, a runny nose and some other infections caused by germs. Breastfeeding reduces these risks.”
Such threats to an infant’s survival and development are as prevalent in developed countries as in developing and underdeveloped countries with infants who are correctly and exclusively breastfed for the first six months getting a head start in life than their peers who are artificially fed.
Aside from possible contamination that may occur during formula preparation, parents should be equally concerned about contaminants in their baby’s formula. A 1988 study reported recovery of various bacteria from more than 50 per cent of 141 dry infant-formula powder products from 35 countries. The E. sakazakii bacteria, known to cause severe and life-threatening illness, particularly for newborns, was recovered from 14 per cent of the samples, and various other reports have affirmed the widespread nature of this bacteria in formula. Studies found that between 40 and 80 per cent of newborns infected with this bacteria died.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Breast milk, on the other hand, is safer and contains all the nutrients a healthy baby needs, including 160 fatty acids that are not found in baby formula. Breast milk is also essentially an infant’s 'first immunisation'. Collectively, these essential nutrients given at infancy helps make a lasting impression on a child’s development and future.
“Breastfed children are protected from infections, have better eyesight, record higher IQs and are less likely to become overweight than those fed with substitutes,” adds Mr. Youssouf. “Research also shows babies who are breastfed have lower incidences, later in life, of chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes and even cancer.”
A mother's own health can also benefit from breastfeeding her child. In addition to having a happy and healthy baby, moms who breastfeed often lose their pregnancy weight faster and experience better bone strength. They may also have reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Equally important in today’s landscape of rising food prices, breastfeeding helps families save between RM 85 and RM 275 a month on infant food.
Despite the proven risks in formulas and benefits of mom’s milk, many mothers are choosing not to breastfeed, seeing formula milk as a more convenient and sometimes less painful option.
Aggressive marketing by the more than RM 10 billion a year formula industry could possibly have some influence for their choice. Insufficient policies and enforcement to protect breastfeeding practices, missing facilities in the workplace and public, inappropriate advice and care by some maternity facilities are others. Coupled with the absence of encouragement and support from family members, breastfeeding becomes a difficult choice for mothers to make and sustain.
Mother's support, going for gold
In recognition of these challenges, World Breastfeeding Week 2008 from 1 to 7 August will be observed with the theme “Mother Support: Going for Gold”. WHO and UNICEF have proposed four areas of successful breastfeeding support:
"It's not always easy for a mother to breastfeed," says Mr. Youssouf. "The pressure of family responsibilities, restrictions in the workplace, and social expectations can, and often do, interfere with a mother's preference to exclusively breastfeed her children. Women must be supported by husbands, communities, healthcare systems, and grandparents when considering what is best - and they must be supported to succeed once a choice is made."
NOTE TO EDITORS
ABOUT UNICEF and our work around breastfeeding
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
World Breastfeeding Week 2008
Innocenti Breastfeeding Communication Package
25 August 2008:
23 July 2008:
17 June 2008:
20 March 2008:
1 August 2007:
20 July 2007:
20 June 2007:
1 August 2006: