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Breast is still best

A recent report confirms that worrying pressures are being put on mothers with new babies by companies keen to improve sales of baby milk

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From: Readers' feedback edition – Footsteps 31

What is at the heart of participatory development and empowerment?

A recent report confirms that worrying pressures are put on mothers with new babies by companies keen to improve sales of baby milk. The Interagency Group on Breast-feeding Monitoring (IGBM) recently published a report showing that many companies – including Nestlé, Gerber, Milco, Nutricia and Wyeth – were promoting bottle-feeding among pregnant and new mothers, breaking an International Code agreed in 1981. The group found that health workers were also breaking the Code – for example, by passing on samples they had received from companies to mothers, or by using posters and leaflets that displayed the name or product of a company.

Baby milk is expensive, a poor substitute for breast milk and, worse still, if formula milk is not prepared in sterile conditions or is too weak, it can lead to infection, malnutrition and death in many babies.

Colostrum is the thick yellowish breast milk produced in the first few days after birth. Some traditions believe it should be thrown away, but it gives vital protection from disease. Colostrum and breast milk contain special ingredients that give natural protection against disease. These protective ingredients are absent in formula milk. Breast-feeding protects babies against diarrhoea, infectious diseases and some forms of allergy. It is likely that breast-feeding improves intellectual development.

Breast-feeding can also be of benefit to mothers. It lowers the risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Exclusive breast-feeding also helps to prevent pregnancy, helping to space births.

What can health workers do?

If you are aware of companies promoting bottle feeding in your area, make a complaint to the company and do all you can to convince mothers that BREAST IS BEST. Encourage mothers to…

  • begin breast-feeding within half an hour of birth
  • breastfeed exclusively for the first 4–6 months – no water, food or other drink is needed
  • give the breast whenever the baby wants, day or night
  • avoid using a bottle or pacifier (dummy/soother).

If a baby becomes ill, it is even more important to continue breast-feeding. For a very small baby who may be too weak to breast-feed, the mother can express milk into a clean cup and feed it from a spoon until the baby gets stronger. Surprisingly, even mothers eating poor diets have good breast milk.

In some countries groups have formed to make it easier for working mothers to continue breast-feeding. BUNSO in the Philippines have campaigned for hospitals to promote and encourage breast-feeding, for working mothers to have two months paid leave after birth and for factories and workplaces to become ‘baby friendly’ and support breast-feeding mothers.

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