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Law on breast-milk substitutes a boon for babies’ health

Dec 26. 2016
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By Pratch Rujivanarom
The Nation
[email protected]

Although breast-milk substitutes are a vital resource for those mothers unable to produce their own milk, a law to regulate the overuse of these products in Thailand is long overdue. 

The government has acknowledged this by introducing the new Code of Marketing for Breast-milk Substitutes draft bill, which and has prompted hot public debate for its blanket ban on advertisement of these products. 

It is scientifically accepted that the best food for babies is their mother’s milk, and the World Health Organisation recommends this is what infants should be fed until at least six months old.

Study after study has found that breast milk has all the necessary nutrients for infant brain development and can increase intelligence and emotional quotients compared to substitutes if offered for the first six months. 

Figures for Thailand however show that only 5.4 per cent of infants are fed exclusively from the breast for the first six months – the lowest incidence of breastfeeding in Asia.

There are several reasons for this, but chief among them has been the aggressive advertising of breast-milk substitutes in the absence of any regulating law. Thailand has ratified the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes but has so far failed to follow up with legislation.  

New mothers often complain of being targeted by salespeople offering them samples of infant formula through the hospital. 

This marketing tactic has proven to be successful, resulting in babies needlessly fed with substitutes.

According to Article 14 of the new bill, all types of marketing for breast-milk substitutes for the babies younger than three years old are banned.

Opponents say the blanket ban is too strict and may cause difficulty for those who actually need breast-milk substitutes.

That need can arise for several reasons, including inability to produce breast milk, health problems that make feeding impossible, or simply separation of mother and baby.

Infant formula then becomes essential as a substitute. And of course it is up to the mother to choose whether they she feeds her children by the breast or with formula.

However, the bill leaves the way open way formula-makers to inform medical staff about their products. Moreover, Article 22 states that medical staff have a duty to advise on the use of breast-milk substitute in cases where it is needed. 

Thus the bill does not ban the use of formula or make it unavailable for those who require it. Its legitimate target instead is the aggressive marketing of infant formula, which must be reined in so as to prevent the unnecessary use of breast-milk substitutes.

The rate of exclusive breastfeeding in Thailand was below the global average and the lowest in Southeast Asia, while aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes to mothers and families was widespread.... 

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