Time for laws to protect breastfeeding mothers


More initiatives must be taken by Malaysia to normalise breastfeeding. This includes having laws to ensure mothers are given adequate support and protection in the process.

Malaysian Breastfeeding Peer Counsellor Association president Dr Nadrah Arfizah Arifin said the country currently does not have laws in place to protect breastfeeding mothers.

This means there are no laws to ensure employers provide proper facilities at the workplace for nursing mothers, nor are there laws to penalise formula milk companies that use aggressive and illegal methods to promote their products to mothers.

“What we have are just codes and policies, including the Malaysian National Breastfeeding Policy that was introduced in 1993, and later revised in 2005.

“There are still no laws, and this is why there are just so many gaps in the area,” she said.

Dr Nadrah said while all government hospitals are breastfeeding-friendly hospitals, not all private hospitals have adopted this initiative.

“This means they are still accepting promotions or donations from milk companies, and this can discourage mothers from breastfeeding,” she said.

She added formula milk for newborns is something that should be prescribed by doctors and should be placed at a separate counter at outlets.

“This is a practice in other countries, including Australia. But you do not see this happening here. All the baby formula, from steps one, two, three and so on, are lumped together. When this happens, young mothers will be discouraged from breastfeeding, as the perception is that, when you start your infant on baby formula at the early stage, there is continuity for all the other stages.”

She also said many public areas remain unfriendly to breastfeeding mothers.

“While Penang had initiated a move to make the state breastfeeding-friendly some five years ago, the same cannot be said about other states.

“Many restaurants are not breastfeeding-friendly, and we still hear cases of mothers being chased out of these premises when they breastfeed their child,” Dr Nadrah said, adding that not all shopping malls provide facilities for nursing mothers.

Dr Nadrah said it was vital for all stakeholders to revisit the Warm Chain Campaign, which was formulated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, and aims to support and protect mothers, as well as promote breastfeeding.

The Warm Chain campaign places the mother-baby dyad at the core. It strives to link different actors across the health, community, and workplace sectors, to provide a continuum of care during the first 1,000 days.

She said while there is more engagement with the private sector with her non-governmental organisation in recent years, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

“Our expertise is often sought by private companies that want to set up facilities in their offices for nursing mothers. However, oftentimes, they will be surprised to find that it’s not just about setting up a room for their female employees.

“It boils down to the number of childbearing female employees, as well as how old the babies are, as there are different sets of timing for expressing milk for a mother of a two-month-old baby, for instance, who would need between 30 and 40 minutes, compared to a mother with an 18-month-old child, who only needs 20 minutes to express her milk,” she added.

Dr Nadrah’s comments followed Unicef’s and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) call today for governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector to step up efforts to:

  • prioritise investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes, especially in fragile and food insecure contexts;
  • equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed;
  • protect caregivers and healthcare workers from the unethical marketing influence of the baby formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings; and
  • implement family-friendly policies that provide mothers with the time, space, and support they need to breastfeed.

World Breastfeeding Week begins today and ends on Sunday.

In a joint statement, Unicef executive director Catherine Russell, and WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said as global crises continue to threaten the health and nutrition of millions of babies and children, the vital importance of breastfeeding as the best possible start in life, is more critical than ever.

“This World Breastfeeding Week, under its theme ‘Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support’, Unicef and WHO are calling on governments to allocate increased resources to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding policies and programmes, especially for the most vulnerable families living in emergency settings.”

“During emergencies, including in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and accessible food source for babies and young children. It offers a powerful line of defence against diseases and all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting.”

They said protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is more important than ever, not just for our planet as the ultimate natural, sustainable, first food system, but also for the survival, growth, and development of millions of infants.

Catherine and Tedros added that breastfeeding acts as a baby’s first vaccine, protecting them from common childhood illnesses.

“Yet, the emotional distress, physical exhaustion, lack of space and privacy, and poor sanitation experienced by mothers in emergency settings mean that many babies are missing out on the benefits of breastfeeding to help them survive.”

“Fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death. And only 44 per cent of infants are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, short of the World Health Assembly target of 50 per cent by 2025,” they added.

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