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Babies are meant to be breastfed

© WABA 2008 / Alphone Roswanto Soewargo

World Breastfeeding Week      1 – 7 August 2008

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:

  1. For mothers to be supported by health systems through woman-centered case, humanistic treatment of each mother-child dyad, and attention to policies that impact the dyad.
  2. For mothers to be supported by health worker education through skilled, informed, as well as humane and culturally sensitive practices.
  3. For mothers to be supported and protected from false and misleading marketing by the baby formula industry through the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions.
  4. For mothers to be supported through community mobilisation, especially mother-to-mother and other peer support which both empowers and informs them.

"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."



UNICEF Activities in Malaysia for World Breastfeeding Week 2008.

ABOUT UNICEF and our work around breastfeeding
Guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF’s programs are anchored on the inherent belief that every child has the right to life and aims to ensure their survival and development. Breastfeeding is recognised as the perfect way to provide the best food for a baby, benefiting children the world over. The WHO/UNICEF Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding recommends that children breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life, and then continue breastfeeding with adequate complementary food up to two years or beyond. For more information, please visit UNICEF's website on nutrition and breastfeeding


• Indra Nadchatram
(+6.03) 2095 9157  ● (+6) 013 366 3452  ●

 Izwina Mohd Din 
(+6.03) 2095 9154  ● (+6) 012 243 7374  ●





World Breastfeeding Week 2008

Mother Support: Going for Gold
1 – 7 August 2008

WBW '08 Press Release

WBW '08 Flyer 


WHO Letter 


UNICEF Malaysia WBW '08 Activities 

Fact Sheets: Breastfeeding

Innocenti Breastfeeding Communication Package


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