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Combating formula feeding

A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, May 2, 2018  /  08:05 am
Combating formula feeding

Many people are still unaware that breastfeeding is the right of both mother and child. (Shutterstock/-)

Breastfeeding is not an easy feat and many new mothers still face difficulties and confusion in practicing it. At this critical stage, practitioners and hospitals need to play an important role in promoting it. 

However, many hospitals still promote the use of formula milk. After giving birth to her first baby in Bandung, West Java, Lidya Lukito, 32, was shocked to learn that her hospital bill included a purchase for formula milk. 

Feeling that she had no reason to buy the formula, she told the chief nurse that she wanted to breastfeed her son. To her dismay, the chief nurse convinced her that giving him the formula was fine and questioned her decision to exclusively breastfeed her baby.

“Are you sure that your breast milk is enough? What if your baby turns yellow or if he is suddenly sick?” she quoted the chief nurse as saying. 

Lidya was even more irritated after finding out that her son had already been fed the formula without her consent, which led to her having an argument with the hospital’s director. When she checked out, she was given a goody bag containing the remaining formula, which she did not feed to her baby. 

Any promotion of breast-milk substitutes in hospitals, such as the distribution of free samples and tote bags filled with baby pacifiers and formula, are a violation of Health Ministry Regulation No. 39/2013. 

However, mothers who have the same experiences as Lidya are usually reluctant to report the hospitals to related agencies, fearing that they could be sued. 

Indonesian Breastfeeding Association (AIMI) chairwoman Mia Sutanto said every newborn baby had the right to get breast milk exclusively, which is protected by Article 128 of Law No. 36/2009 on health.

Breastfeeding infants from birth to their first six months of life will give them a head start. Feeding them formula is a serious issue, Lidya said. 

“Any action to prevent [mothers] from breastfeeding is a human rights violation,” she added on Saturday at the Salihara Theater in South Jakarta during AIMI’s 11th anniversary celebration. 

Breast milk, which is safe and hygienic, is the perfect food for infants to grow healthy and to develop their brain. Various studies say breast milk contains antibodies, which will protect babies from respiratory infections, diarrhea, obesity and non-communicable diseases such as asthma and diabetes. Breastfeeding will also benefit mothers because it reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers. 

Unethical promotions and advertising by formula makers at hospitals not only take place in Indonesia, but also in other countries, including Pakistan. During the anniversary celebration, AIMI screened the 2014 film Tigers, which was based on a true event.

Oscar winner Danis Tanovic’s movie tells the story of a former Nestle baby milk salesman who takes on the company after he realizes that its products claimed the lives of hundreds of babies in Pakistan. The screening is aimed at warning Indonesians about the aggressive campaigns to promote formula milk.

“But formula makers will never say that they don’t support breastfeeding,” Mia said. 

According to the World Health Organization, only 38 percent of infants globally were exclusively breastfed. In Indonesia, only 42 percent of infants aged under 6 months get breast milk.

“The low breastfeeding rate is mainly caused by the promotion of breast-milk substitutes,” Mia said. 

For formula makers, the switch from breast milk to baby formulas offers a huge business opportunity in Indonesia with a population of over 255 million and approximately 5 million babies born per year. The country, for example, was the fifth-biggest sales contributor of Danone in 2014. 

UNICEF said, in Indonesia, the sale of breast-milk substitutes reached Rp 25.8 trillion (US$1.85 billion) in 2016. The country could save an estimated Rp 20 trillion every year in healthcare costs and wages if children were breastfed. 

As regulated in Government Regulation (PP) No. 33/2012 on exclusive breastfeeding, there are certain criteria for formula feeding, such as medical conditions and when the baby is separated from the mother. The medical conditions include premature birth and a mother who is HIV positive.

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