Breastfeeding rate forecast to rise
Passage of a proposed law that would ban "exaggerated" advertisements promoting milk formula could help increase the breastfeeding rate by at least 50% by 2025, the Ministry of Public Health has forecast.
"If the bill passes, the figure could possibly continue to increase and the target of a rise of at least 50% could become achievable," said Thongchai Lertwilairatanapong, deputy director-general of the ministry's department of health.
Mr Thongchai said the breastfeeding rate, which rose from 12% in 2012 to 23% last year, was still considered poor and was the lowest in Asean.
He insisted that by pushing for the law, the ministry was not saying infant formula was not beneficial, but its benefits cannot match those of breast milk.
"Their marketing approach is our main concern," he said.
He said breastfeeding remained the healthiest option which provides numerous nutrients and builds up immunity and brain development for newly born infants. However, formula can be used for medical purposes, such as for children who are ill or in need of special treatment.
"Exceptions can be made case by case," Mr Thongchai said, citing Section 22 of the draft bill, which is now being considered by the National Legislative Assembly before it is forwarded to the prime minister next year.
Another effort, he said, is to extend the period of maternity leave for mothers from three to six months with full pay, which he admitted would not be easy in practice, so mothers could have a longer time to look after infants.
Under Thai labour laws, a mother will be paid in full for only half her 90-day maternity leave. A civil servant may take 150 days of additional leave without pay, but no promotion will be considered for that year.
Fully backing the bill, Borwornsan Jiadumrong, an advertising expert who has monitored formula ads in Thailand for many years, said the number of advertisements posted online exceeded 200 per month to convince mothers to give up breastfeeding and choose formula products instead.
According to a survey by the Thai Breastfeeding Centre Foundation, collected nationwide between 2013 until the present, seven major companies posted about 210 messages with photographs promoting their products online per month.
"The companies often cite that babies fed only by mother's milk are not receiving enough nutrients -- this is simply not true," he said. "The scariest marketing method is via social media because the companies can reach mothers 24/7."