More breastfed, despite lack of policies to help

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 July, 2012, 12:00am


A growing number of Hong Kong mothers feel breast is best for raising their baby - but the city still lags behind its Asian counterparts in terms of policies and facilities to encourage breastfeeding, a new study has found.

Of the 94,000 babies born in the city last year, 83.3 per cent were being breastfed by the time they left hospital, up 4.1 percentage points on the year before, according to the local branch of the international Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Doctors say breastfed infants are healthier than those fed on formula and are less likely to become obese, while breastfeeding can also bring mother and child closer together.

But the city scores poorly on an international index which compares the environment for breastfeeding in the 81 countries and territories that have signed up for the initiative.

It scores just 37 points out of 150 on the scale, although a voluntary code governing formula-milk advertising and efforts to encourage mothers to start breastfeeding within an hour of birth have boosted the score from 27 in the previous study. By contrast, Sri Lanka scored 124 in 2008, while the mainland scored 80.8.

'Hong Kong has yet to start any interdepartmental efforts to facilitate breastfeeding,' Dr Patricia Ip Lai-sheung, chairman of the initiative in the city, said. 'The Labour and Welfare Bureau, for example, should consider extending the maternity leave from 10 weeks to 14 weeks, which is the minimum according to international recommendations.'

Sri Lanka and the mainland score well for 'baby-friendly' hospitals, where free formula is banned and mothers are able to stay with their babies on the wards. Some 80 per cent of Sri Lanka's newborns were breastfed within an hour of birth, against 22 per cent in Hong Kong.

A separate poll by the Hospital Authority in March showed that 80.2 per cent of mothers who delivered in public hospitals were breastfeeding upon discharge, but just 73 per cent were still doing so a month later.

Not producing enough milk, fatigue and the need to return to work were the main reasons cited for giving up.

But Ip says it is unusual for mothers to fail to produce enough milk for health reasons - instead, they need to learn the right pose for feeding.

'Mothers lack confidence in themselves,' the Hospital Authority's chief nursing executive, Sylvia Fung Yuk-kuen, said. 'It is not necessary for mums to wait hours before feeding their babies [in order to build up milk supplies]. Instead, they should breastfeed whenever the baby demands it.'

Ip Yun-pui, a mother of two, stopped breastfeeding her son, now four, shortly after his birth as the baby cried a lot. 'I thought he was hungry. All the others around me suggested I should feed him milk formula,' she said.

She gave birth to her second child about a month ago, and was told that a baby's tears could be the result of tiredness or a wet diaper rather than hunger. Ip again tried breastfeeding, but will stop when she returns to work, as there are no spare rooms in her office for breastfeeding, she said.

'I hope the public and companies can be more supportive,' she said.