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China lagging behind breastfeeding targets
Updated: 2009-08-08 21:48

BEIJING: China is still lagging behind national and global breastfeeding targets, health experts say.

Approximately only 20 percent of mothers in China breastfeed their infants for at least six months, Chinese newspaper Health News said Saturday just 45.3 percent of newly borns four months or younger were fully breastfed, while the ratio among infants up to six months was only 21.6 percent.

The findings come from a recent study of urban mothers, who are more likely to cease breastfeeding early than their rural counterparts, said the report.

The rates are far behind World Health Organization targets, which suggest all infants of six months or younger be fully breastfed, said Yin Shi'an, a researcher with the Nutrition and Food Safety Institute of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

August 1-7 observed the 18th World Breastfeeding Week, which focused on the importance of breastfeeding as a life-saving intervention, especially in emergencies.

Yin said scientific research had proved breastfeeding provided the best, most balanced food for newlyborns. A study of 2,160 Chinese infants, between 1998 and 2004, showed that breastfeeding could help development of the neural system and dramatically lower the rate of infant eczema.

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Despite years of efforts to raise public awareness and to create "baby friendly" hospitals, the average rate of breastfeeding in China remains low, Yin said.

China's national action plan for children's development, issued in 2001, proposed a recommended the breastfeeding rate among infants of four months or younger should be 85 percent or higher.

But breastfeeding applied to only 66.4 percent of mothers and babies in cities and 74.6 percent in rural areas in 2002, a national survey on nutrition and health conditions that year ascertained.

In recent years, breastfeeding rates have dropped even further in some areas, largely because of some mothers' ignorance and aggressive promotion of baby formula products.

Ren Yuwen, a Chinese expert with La Leche League, an international nonprofit organization that promotes breastfeeding, said almost all ads for baby formula products misled young mothers, through exaggerations such as the product making babies "smarter" and "healthier".

China published a government order in 1995 to restrict the use and promotion of all substitute products for mother's milk for infants up to six months.

"Unfortunately, businesses have just been ignoring the order and always try to mislead mothers to use baby formulas," Ren said.

Experts said health education about breastfeeding should be intensified among the public, while workplaces should provide friendly environments for new mothers to breastfeed babies.