Twenty five-year-old software company employee Kamala (name changed) opted for a breast milk substitute to feed her four-month-old girl. The reason? She saw an advertisement of a private company claiming that their milk powder acted as a substitute for mother’s milk. She felt she could not breastfeed her baby exclusively as she had to return to work three months after delivery and hence changed to artificial food after convincing her doctor.
According to recommendations of the World Health Organisation, a newborn baby has to be breastfed within one hour after birth, be it normal delivery or a ‘C’ section. Doctors say that WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to six months and add that mothers can continue with the breast milk along with other nutritious and age appropriate complementary feeding for up to two years.
But some mothers find it difficult to feed their newborns as they feel they have no milk or they have no time as they need to get back to work. Few mothers also refuse to feed their babies for cosmetic reasons. Doctors add that corporate giants make use of such situations and market their products.
“These misleading advertisements undermine the confidence of a mother. Some ads say – mother’s milk is the best. But if you can’t breastfeed our product is as good as breast milk’.
These companies approach mothers in the guise of educating them. It’s not like choosing between two soft drink brands. It’s about choosing between a live, pure substance and a dead, impure substance,” says Dr D Gunasingh, Institute of Child Health and Hospital for Children.
The doctor recalled a study done in 2006 in six different countries that said that the growth potential for all children were the same if they were given appropriate nutritious food and stimulation. Pediatricians add that breastfeeding not only helps in the baby’s physical and mental growth but can also result in the reduction of infant mortality rate. Breastfeeding also aids mothers who are suffering from excessive postpartum bleeding and reduces their chance of anemia, ovarian and uterine cancer, obesity and hypertension. “A mother burns about 500 kilograms of calorie a day due to feeding her baby and it can help in getting back to shape,” Dr Gunasingh informs.
This is in complete opposition to breast milk substitutes. Feeding the baby substitutes before it turns six months old can result in diarrhoea or pneumonia and can also affect the growth of the baby.
Professors in pediatrics say that the medical curriculum itself does not teach its students the problems faced by mothers and ways to solve them. “This reflects in their work after they become health professionals, as they simply recommend infant milk substitutes when a mother approaches with feeding problems,” they say. A professor also recalled how one of his post graduate students was shocked when her baby was given ‘formula’ food soon after delivery.
“Even if the mothers aren’t ready to breastfeed, we insist on it. We strictly don’t encourage substitutes for mother’s milk,” said Dilshath, Director, Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children.
Dr Arun Gupta, regional co-ordinator, International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Asia says though companies have stopped promotion, they have resorted to other strategies like e-marketing.
“Though there is a law, it is not strictly enforced. Companies still market through sponsoring doctors meets,” he said.