China’s other baby feeding scandal

Fall-out from China’s contaminated baby milk formula scandal continues, but there is another scandal in the background: the number of Chinese women who are not breast-feeding their infants. In the 1970s, nearly all Chinese mothers breast-fed their babies because there was no real alternative. Since then, amid rising incomes, the development of the dairy industry and growing urbanisation, China has embraced baby formula. As migrant workers swell the booming cities, women face greater pressure to return to work early. And with the loosening of economic restrictions, dairy companies have launched aggressive advertising aimed at women who worry about not being able to produce enough milk. Many families fall for the marketing pitch that formula contains special nutrients such as DHA, a fatty acid which is good for developing intelligence, when it exists anyway in mother’s milk.

About 49 per cent of Chinese mothers with babies under six months breast feed exclusively, according to a 2005 survey by China’s Ministry of Health. And 2007 figures suggest that about 72 per cent of mothers with infants under four months practised some form of breast feeding. Maternity leave in China is typically four months, but many return earlier.

“In the countryside, many mothers ask their parents to care for their babies so they can come to the city to look for work,” a breast feeding advocate told the Washington Post. A grandmother says her daughter is away from her baby long hours studying software technology -- “I know breast-feeding is better, but what can we do?”

It seems cruel that, restricted to one or two children, Chinese parents are so harnessed to their country’s economy that they cannot even do what they know is best for their children. ~ Washington Post, Oct 25



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