Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New labeling guidelines give milk companies an "escape clause"

The Philippines Department of Health has issued new guidelines for the labeling of infant formula and other breastmilk substitutes. This, following the approval by the Supreme Court of the revised implementing rules and regulations of EO 51, or the Milk Code.

It would be refreshing to look at cans of powdered infant formula and no longer see health and nutrition claims, which the guidelines now prohibit.

However, it is mind-boggling that the Health Department allowed an alternative message regarding the existence of disease-causing microorganisms in powdered formula. Thus, milk companies must put either this message:

"This product may contain pathogenic microorganisms and must be prepared and used appropriately."

or this message:

"There is likelihood that pathogenic microorganisms will be in this product when it is prepared and used inappropriately."

Which message do you think the milk companies will use?

The first version warns about the possible presence of pathogenic microorganisms regardless of how the product is prepared. The second version attributes the presence of pathogenic microorganisms to wrong preparation and use of the product. Therefore, if pathogenic microorganisms should be found in infant formula, then it is the customer's fault for not following directions.

Disease-causing germs have been found in powdered infant formula because it is impossible to completely sterilize powdered formula. So it can have pathogenic microorganisms even before the can is even opened by the consumer. This is a crucial message that all potential and existing buyers of powdered formula should be aware of.

DOH should remove the alternate message and require milk companies to clearly state that their products are not sterile and could contain bacteria and other microorganisms - substances that could lead to babies' sickness or even death.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breastfeeding ensures survival in a disaster

The breastfeeding world is abuzz with news of a police officer in China who is wet-nursing eight babies, five of them orphaned by the recent earthquake.

Read the story here or here.

Once again, breastfeeding has been proven to save the lives of infants in the aftermath of a disaster.

It bothers me that both news accounts say that the babies were left in an institution that did not have powdered milk, as if that were the more ideal situation. In fact, the use of powdered milk -- in ordinary life but even moreso in a disaster situation -- could be deadly to infants. Imagine the risks involved in feeding powdered milk to babies when clean water is scarce, hygiene is poor and diseases abound! It would be next to impossible to sterilize feeding bottles, artificial nipples and water.

This is why UNICEF and WHO have released a statement stating, "there should be no donations of breast milk substitutes (BMS), such as infant formula, other milk products, bottle-fed complementary foods represented for use in children up to 2 years of age, complementary foods, juices, teas represented for use in infants under six months; and bottles and teats."

The most ideal situation is for infants to be breastfed either by their own mothers or other mothers, such as what Jiang Xiaojuan is doing in China. Unfortunately, the practice of wet-nursing has all but disappeared in many cultures, including rural Philippines. Most people find it weirder for a child to suckle from another woman than from a plastic bottle!

Breastfeeding women who have been traumatized by disaster should receive counseling so that they can resume breastfeeding. But I wonder, how many health and social workers are trained to provide such counseling?

Even if the breastfeeding mother is malnourished and dehydrated, she can still breastfeed. In that case, the mother needs to receive adequate food; it is not necessary to give artificial milk to her baby to make up for the mother's inadequate nutrition.

If artificial feeding is necessary, UNICEF and WHO say that liquid ready-to-use infant formula is the most appropriate, and should be given with a cup and spoon, not bottles and nipples.

Download the official UNICEF and WHO statement here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Another study shows breastfeeding and IQ link

Image by flikr

A study published this month in the Archives of General Psychiatry once again shows the link between breastfeeding and higher IQ.

Hailed as the largest ever randomized trial conducted on lactation, the Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT) Study found that exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding were associated with higher IQ and teachers' ratings in children 6.5 years old. The study was conducted among 17,046 healthy breast-feeding infants in 31 Belarussian maternity hospitals and their affiliated polyclinics.

The experimental group was subjected to a breastfeeding promotion programme modeled on the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative of WHO and UNICEF, while the control group was subjected to usual hospital/clinic practices. Those in the experimental group were nearly seven times more likely than the control group to still be exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months (43.3% for the experimental group vs. 6.4% for the control group), and were more likety to be breastfeeding at any age up to 12 months.

When followed up 6.5 years later, the experimental group had higher "means on all of the Wechsler Abbreviated Scales of Intelligence measures for verbal IQ, performance IQ, and full-scale IQ. Teachers' academic ratings were significantly higher in the experimental group for both reading and writing.

The authors concluded that, "These results ... provide strong evidence that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding improves children's cognitive development."

Click here to read the abstract of the study.

For more on the superiority of breastfeeding vs. formula feeding:

Long-term effects of breastfeeding
A neonatologist tells why to breastfeed
Breastfeed/be breastfed to prevent cancer