“Feed your baby with breast milk and he/she will grow up to be a human; give him/her a bottle-feed of powdered milk, soon he/she will behave like an animal!” It may sound preposterous and that’s how our old grannies used to think about breast-feeding infants.
Breast-feeding has been the tradition the world over from time immemorial until the emergence of multi-national companies with ‘vivid ideas’ conditioning the human mind to create new market forces in a new found industry of powdered milk and feeding bottles. This ‘new’ concept of bottle-feeding was a product of the West, however, over the years they have woken up to be wiser and more and more Western mothers have turned to breast feeding.
In contrast mothers in the developing world being enticed by alluring advertisements of chubby, happy toothless grinning infants on baby food labels and on glossy magazines have been picking up the misguided habit of bottle-feeding and seemingly transformed the whole process into a fashion rather than a convenience.
Some of the Western mothers might consider it as an ‘Asian cultural fixation’ but unless there is a medical issue for not breast feeding a baby, there is absolutely no question as to whether a mother should breast feed her babe-in-arms or not. Many mothers do not breast feed their babies out of convenience or whatever excuse they can come out with. Women by nature are born with mammary glands and these develop accordingly to feed their babies with milk.
During the first six months of breast feeding it helps to build up a strong immune system in a child, therefore, it’s a natural process which should not be replaced with sterile bottles or a formula.
To have a healthy baby is any mother’s dream. Yet, still it is puzzling to see how baby food advertisements have managed to condition mothers to lose confidence in their own nutritious milk while a host of milk powder companies manipulate on the vulnerability of mothers!
Over two decades ago an Indian paediatrician (Dr. R. Anand) advised Indian mothers against this misguided habit of bottle-feeding by stressing the fact that ‘bottle feeding caused deaths among a large number of babies in India and in other developing countries’. During this period, it was accepted in medical circles that bottle-fed babies were at risk of developing gastro-enteritis which resulted in vomiting and diarrhoea caused by bacteria multiplying in baby stomachs.
Dr. Anand enlightened mothers as to how the Colostrum in breast milk acted as a natural antibiotic which developed offspring’s resistance to diseases. Highlighting statistics of 55.5 percent out of 200 infants was artificially fed in India, he maintained that even under-nourished mothers could produce breast milk for at least four months. He consequently campaigned for a restraint on the 'Aggressive marketing of infant formula'.
At the time, (20 years ago) a survey discovered that babies in Pakistan consumed an estimated Rs.165 million to Rs. 315 million worth of baby food annually and the purchase of feeding bottles was in the region of Rs 4.5 million. Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, The Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Kenya and the Latin American countries have all fallen victim of the entrepreneurial strategies of the baby food industrial giants.
In an attempt to capture the market at the expense of the third world babies, multi-national companies have gone on record in supplying free milk to numerous hospitals and clinics of these countries. Multi-nationals have always maintained that the “donations were made to poor missionary hospitals who had not money and some babies in such hospitals needed to be fed by substitutes”.
In the late 1980s, the WHO laid down an International Code of Marketing a breast milk substitute which unfortunately was often unheeded flagrantly by many international giants.
According to the code, companies should not have given free milk to another or organization, advertise their baby food products in health/care facilities or through the mass media; and labels had to carry a statement on the superiority of breast feeding (similar to that of health warning messages printed on tobacco and cigarettes). Multi-national companies who were wary of the sceptical West soon had to find safe dumping grounds for their products in developing countries and others where it was less likely to probe the quality of their products. Selling baby food to the developing world was the first attempt in a long list of exploitation practised by foreign multi-nationals on the third world. Even babies in those countries were not excluded from being guinea pigs just as people in rest of the world who were fed with new or banned drugs, food and other products by unscrupulous capitalistic elements who always manage to get away with ‘murder’. But the question remains to be answered whether the authorities who are directly responsible in all those countries for importing such products to the very detriment of their own national health are aware that they are being exploited? So are all those authorities who fall prey to such unscrupulous exploitation really naive on the responsible decisions they take on behalf of their nations?
It is, however, encouraging to note that in a recent survey carried out by South Asia Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Sri Lanka has been selected as ‘the best breast feeding country’.
This was followed by a ceremony organized by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Women’s Organszation to mark this occasion where breast feeding mothers were felicitated at the Sri Lanka Freedom Party Headquarters in Colombo.
Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena’s novel idea to set up conducive feeding rooms for breast feeding mothers in government and other private institutions will no doubt send the message to the mothers in the world at large to hark back to breast-feeding habits of their off springs with enthusiasm.