Breastfeeding rate falling short of target

By Wang Ying (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-08-07 06:49

Human beings are mammals, characterized by milk-producing organs in the female for nourishing the young. However, some mothers have abandoned the natural way in favor of infant formula to feed their newborns.

It is difficult for China to meet the national target of 85 percent breastfeeding by 2010, experts said.

"The country's breastfeeding rate is about 70 percent, with the rural rate higher than that in the cities," Lai Jianqiang, a researcher with the National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety, said.

In some big cities, the breastfeeding rate is less than 60 percent.

"China is taking further action to increase its breastfeeding rate," Lai told China Daily yesterday in response to World Breastfeeding Week which ends today

The country has banned the promotion of breast milk substitutes in hospitals since the launch of the Regulation of Human Milk Substitutes Distribution in 1995. The regulation also stipulates that doctors must promote the advantages of breastfeeding.

The regulation is being amended. More detailed measures and new standards will be introduced.

"The amendment will extend the exclusive breastfeeding period from the first four months to the first six months after a baby is born, adopting the latest scientific discoveries of WHO studies," Dai Yaohua, a senior researcher with the Beijing-based Capital Institute of Paediatrics and a counselor with the World Health Organization, said.

"But efforts to promote breastfeeding are lagging behind the promotion of formula milk," Dai said.

"The society also needs to strengthen the caring and protection system for mothers and encourage them to continue breastfeeding."

WHO and UNICEF have launched a Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding, recommending that children be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, and then continue to be breastfed with adequate complementary food for up to two years or beyond.

However, Zhou Hua, 33, a mother of a 1-year-old child, quit breastfeeding and switched to infant formula when her daughter was only one-month old.

"I was worrying about my job and wanted to get back to work earlier," Zhou said. She is a hotel manager in Beijing.

"My daughter is healthy and is even a bit fatter than others of her age, which has convinced me of the nutrition in formula milk," Zhou said.

However, fatter might not mean stronger, medical experts said.

"Breast milk is a necessary and ideal food for a baby because its nutrients are most suitable for the baby's digestion and nourishment," Li Haimiao, a doctor from Beijing Haidian Maternal and Child Healthcare Hospital, said.

"For mothers, breastfeeding is beneficial to post-partum recuperation.

"Normally we let babies experience skin-to-skin contact with their mothers and begin breastfeeding within the first hour of life, which is quite important to the physical and mental health of both mother and baby," Li said.

Peng Qiang, 30, an engineer in Zhuozhou of Hebei Province, admitted that he knows little about breastfeeding.

"It is women's thing, totally beyond my understanding, the recently married Peng said.

But a caring husband and supportive family can really make a difference.

Zhang Jian, a father of a seven-year-old girl is proud of his wife who continued to breastfeed for more than two years.

"I cooked nutritious meals, such as fish soup, for my wife every day to help her continue breastfeeding," Zhang said. "As a result, my daughter is very healthy and seldom falls ill."

(China Daily 08/07/2007 page3)

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