Breastfeeding law is long overdue

Breastfeeding law is long overdue

It is an indisputable, scientific fact that breast milk is best for babies. Breast milk contains all of the unmatchable nutrients, antibodies, hormones, anti-viruses, anti-allergies, anti-parasites and enzymes infants need to ward off illnesses and to ensure they grow and thrive. Yet far too few babies in Thailand are receiving this "best food" during the first six months of life as recommended by the World Health Organisation and Unicef.

Unicef data ("State of the World's Children" report, 2013) shows that only 15% _ or around 120,000 of the estimated 800,000 babies born in Thailand each year _ are being exclusively breastfed for the first six months. This is the lowest rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Asia and among the lowest in the world.

One reason for the low rate of breastfeeding in Thailand is the aggressive marketing and advertising of infant formula and other breast milk substitute products.

There are constant streams of advertisements and promotions for infant formula through media channels and at stores, and infant formula is even promoted and distributed in hospital maternity clinics. Free infant formula samples are distributed to mothers from the day they give birth, if not before. This has caused many mothers to mistakenly believe infant formula is as good as breast milk, the "gold standard" when it comes to infant and young child nutrition.

At the World Health Assembly in 1981, the Thai government adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The code prohibits advertising or promoting infant formula, other breast milk substitutes, and bottles and teats to the general public or through the health care system, and calls on governments to implement its provisions by incorporating them into law.

According to the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) and the International Code Documentation Centre (ICDC), many violations of the code occur regularly in Thailand, where infant formula feeding is often introduced to newborns _ usually by hospital staff _ shortly after birth.

Large numbers of mothers in Thailand undergo caesarian sections, and they are usually separated from their infants after delivery. As the mothers recover, it is common practice in many hospitals to feed the newborns infant formula. Many of these mothers are not aware that by being separated from their newborn immediately after birth they are missing out on one of the most precious moments of life between a mother and child.

Keeping a mother and child together immediately after birth is crucial for developing deep bonding and ensuring future success in breastfeeding.

In the first hour of life, a baby is alert and requires skin-to-skin contact with its mother. A child will naturally seek its mother's nipple to get breast milk, and this helps create a deep and special bond between the mother and child. If this natural process is interrupted, the first milk, colostrum-rich in antibodies, can be delayed. And since breast milk is produced on the basis of supply and demand (the more the baby suckles, the more milk is produced), the mother's milk supply may be interrupted, leading to the common misconception that the mother doesn't have enough milk to breastfeed.

In order to protect the rights of both mothers and newborns, Unicef is supporting the development of the draft Breast Milk Code (BMS) Act. The act is aimed at providing mothers with the information they need to decide whether to breastfeed and to protect parents from unethical marketing practices for breast milk substitutes.

The draft is expected to be approved by the cabinet in the next several months, and then will be presented to the parliament for consideration.

No matter how determined a mother is to breastfeed, extensive support from people around her is still a must. Most important is support from doctors and nurses.

Hospitals need policies that ensure newborns are not separated from their mothers at birth, and that every effort is made to initiate breastfeeding within the first hour. Infant formula must never be provided unless there are clear medical reasons for mothers being unable to breastfeed, which is relatively rare. Hospitals also should have a breastfeeding clinic where medical staff provide guidance on breastfeeding techniques, information on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and later support so mothers can continue breastfeeding.

It is also extremely important for husbands and relatives to fully understand the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and to support mothers' efforts. Increasing numbers of mothers now work outside the home, and this can make it more difficult for them to continue exclusive breastfeeding. Companies need to adopt clear policies in support of continued breastfeeding. All that is required is to provide mothers with a couple of brief breaks each day, along with a breastfeeding room or corner at the workplace where they can comfortably pump and store breast milk.

Supporting continued breastfeeding in the workplace also benefits employers _ breastfed babies are healthier and become ill less often, and as a result mothers miss fewer days of work caring for them.

Data shows that most of the mothers who get appropriate support have successfully breastfed their children for the first six months of life. While we can all hope that the bill will soon become law, we don't have to wait until then to provide support for exclusive breastfeeding. We should all act now to help ensure the right of all children in Thailand to this "best start" in life.

Bijaya Rajbhandari is Unicef representative in Thailand.

Do you like the content of this article?

Unvaccinated Hong Kongers could be banned from restaurants, schools

HONG KONG: Hong Kong is considering banning unvaccinated residents from entering certain businesses in a bid to prevent the transmission of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant already found in the city, the minister in charge of the Covid-19 jab drive said.


Dechapol, Sapsiree win but Ratchanok loses in Indonesia Open finals

Dechapol Puavaranukroh and Sapsiree Taerattanachai claimed their third straight title but Ratchanok Intanon missed a chance to win her first crown in almost two years at the Indonesia Open in Bali on Sunday.


World borders shut

World governments rushed to contain a new, heavily mutated Covid-19 strain Sunday, with Israel barring all foreigners and Australia reporting its first cases of the variant.