1. Breastfeeding is what UNICEF and WHO recommend.
Both organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At six months, solid foods, such as mashed fruits and vegetables, should be introduced to complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more. In addition:
- breastfeeding should begin within one hour of birth
- breastfeeding should be “on demand”, as often as the child wants day and night; and
- bottles or pacifiers should be avoided.
2. Breastmilk is the ideal food for newborns and infants.
Breastmilk provides all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals an infant needs for growth for the first six months, and no other liquids or food are needed. In addition, breastmilk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat disease.The act of breastfeeding itself stimulates proper growth of the mouth and jaw, and secretion of hormones for digestion and satiety.
Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of chronic conditions later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma and childhood leukemia.
Globally, breastfed children have at least six times greater chance of survival in the early months than non-breastfed children.
An exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than a non-breastfed child, and breastfeeding drastically reduces deaths from acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea, two major child killers (Lancet 2008).Even in industrialized countries, studies find that non-breastfed children are also at greater risk of dying and getting major disease.
A recent study of post-neonatal mortality in the United States found a 25 per cent increase in mortality among non-breastfed infants. In the UK Millennium Cohort Survey, six months of exclusive breastfeeding was associated with a 53 per cent decrease in hospital admissions for diarrhoea and a 27 per cent decrease in respiratory tract infections.
A ‘Children of 1997′ cohort study in Hong Kong found that breastfeeding is associated with less hospital admissions for diarrhoea and chest infections and fewer illness related visits to doctors. By promoting breastfeeding, it can lessen the burden posed to our health care system.
3. Breastfeeding is good for mothers’ health.
Breastfeeding contributes to maternal health immediately after the delivery because it helps reduce the risk of post-partum haemorrhage. In the short term, breastfeeding delays the return to fertility and in the long term, it reduces type 2 diabetes. Studies have also found an association between early cessation of breastfeeding and post natal depression in mothers.
4. Breastfeeding has long-term benefits on infants and public health.
Beyond the immediate benefits for infants, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese.
They are less likely to have type-2 diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.
5. Infant formula cannot substitute breastfeeding.
Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breastmilk.
When infant formula is not properly prepared, there are risks arising from the use of unsafe water and unsterilized equipment or the potential presence of bacteria in powdered formula. Over-diluting formula to “stretch” supplies can result malnutrition. If formula is used, mothers gradually may not be able to breastfeed due to diminished breastmilk production.
6. We need to protect breastfeeding.
World Health Organization and UNICEF adopted an international code to regulate the marketing of breast-milk substitutes in 1981. It calls for:
- all formula labels and information to state the benefits of breastfeeding and the health risks of substitutes;
- no promotion of breastmilk substitutes;
- no free samples of substitutes to be given to pregnant women, mothers or their families; and
- no distribution of free or subsidized substitutes to health workers or facilities.
UNICEF HK held Baby Friendly Action in 2014 to urge the implementation of the Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products and Food Products for Infants and Young Children (the Hong Kong Code) drafted by Food and Health Bureau based on the International Code.
The Hong Kong SAR Government launched the voluntary Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Formula Milk and Related Products and Food Products for Infants and Young Children (HK Code) in 13 June 2017, which aims to protect breastfeeding and contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants and young children, based on adequate and unbiased information and through appropriate marketing.
7. Mothers need support to initiate and sustain breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding has to be learned and many women encounter difficulties at the beginning. UNICEF HK Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association has a baby friendly hotline and keep advocating for the attainment of service standards of a Baby Friendly Hospital in all health facilities with maternity services, to support and improve care for mothers and newborns.
8. Working mothers can sustain breastfeeding with support.
One main reason for mothers to stop breastfeeding is “returning to workplace”.
Many mothers who return to work abandon breastfeeding partially or completely because they do not have sufficient time, or a place to breastfeed, express and store their milk. Mothers need a safe, clean and private place in or near their workplace to continue breastfeeding. Enabling conditions at work, such as paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breastfeeding breaks, can help.
9. The next step: phasing in solid foods
To meet the growing needs of babies at six months of age, mashed solid foods should be introduced as a complement to continued breastfeeding. Foods for the baby can be specially prepared or modified from family meals. Few important notes are:
- breastfeeding should not be decreased when starting on solids;
- food should be given with a spoon or cup, not in a bottle;
- food should be clean, safe and locally available; and
- ample time is needed for young children to learn to eat solid foods.
10. With support, mothers infected with HIV, living in developing countries or affected by disasters can also breastfeed.
An HIV-infected mother can pass the infection to her infant during pregnancy, delivery and through breastfeeding. Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs given to either the mother or HIV-exposed infant reduces the risk of transmission. Together, breastfeeding and ARVs have the potential to significantly improve infants’ chances of surviving while remaining HIV uninfected.
UNICEF strongly recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies, especially during an emergency. There are many myths around breastfeeding in emergencies, including that mothers’ milk dries up under stress, and that mothers should not breastfeed if their own nutrition is not optimal. The facts are that breastfeeding can help reduce stress for the mother and baby and with adequate emotional and practical support, including additional food where needed, all mothers can successfully breastfeed. Artificial feeding with breastmilk substitutes (BMS) in an emergency should be used only as a last resort, because the disruption of sources of safe water and unsanitary conditions carry high risks of malnutrition, illness and death.