Melamine scandal prompts calls to breastfeed

Updated: 2008-12-31 07:43

By Joseph Li(HK Edition)

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It's often called the most natural thing in the world, but breastfeeding still isn't as commonplace in Hong Kong as many doctors and proponents would hope.

And following the melamine contamination of dairy products, particularly formula milk, that affected more than 300,000 babies on the mainland and locally, mothers are being more encouraged than ever to breastfeed.

Ahead of an international conference on breastfeeding that will be held here in February, the La Leche League Hong Kong points out that the city lacks a territory-wide breastfeeding policy. It hopes the government will strive to promote breastfeeding, offer support services to mothers and educate the public.

While the melamine poisonings have frightened mothers, the bright side is they have been reminded of the health benefits of breastfeeding, according to Dr Patricia Ip, vice chairwoman of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Association Hong Kong.

Ip pointed out yesterday that many mothers may want to breastfeed, but the medical community, as well as their families and friends, aren't able to support them or provide adequate information.

Because there is no city-wide breastfeeding policy, Ip said, Hong Kong lags behind Scandinavian countries in the promotion of breastfeeding. That includes maternity leave, community support and public education.

"The government should play a leading role in promoting breastfeeding in Hong Kong," she said. "Although the laws provides a paid 10-week maternity leave, it is hardly enough compared with Scandinavian countries, where mothers can enjoy unpaid leave of up to one year."

The Food and Health Bureau responded by saying the Department of Health has an internal policy that encourages and supports mothers to breastfeed their babies.

In public hospitals, staff are trained to promote the benefits of breastfeeding. Relevant booklets and videos are produced for public education purpose, while clinical instructions are provided to mothers.

Through all the efforts, the breastfeeding rate increased from 60 percent in 2001 to 73 percent in 2007, a Bureau spokesman said.

(HK Edition 12/31/2008 page1)