Promoting importance of breast-feeding

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 August, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 1995, 12:00am

THIS week (August 1-7) has been set aside by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), as World Breast-feeding Week (WBW).

It will be a celebration of the importance of breast-feeding for the health of the world's children. Their global goal for optimal health and nutrition for both mother and child is that all women be enabled to practise exclusive breast-feeding and that all infants be fed exclusively on breast milk from birth, to four to six months of age.

The theme of this year's WBW is, 'Breast-feeding: Empowering Women'.

Once a woman establishes breast-feeding the practice can be empowering and contributes to gender equality.

Conditions necessary for successful nurturing, including breast-feeding, are also conditions which reduce the subordination of women by challenging negative images of women and emphasising the value of women's reproductive work. The key to successful breast-feeding is the provision of consistent, accurate information before and after birth, together with hospital practices which enhance and support the initiation of lactation.

Hospitals which create an environment supporting women in their desire to breast-feed are being recognised as 'baby-friendly' hospitals by the agencies.

WHO and UNICEF have recommended 10 Steps to Successful Breast-feeding.

The first of the 10 steps states that every facility providing maternity services and newborn care should have a written breast-feeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.

Amongst the other steps are recommendations that: Breast-feeding should ideally be initiated within half-an-hour of birth.

Newborns should be given only breast milk, unless medically indicated.

Mothers and babies should remain together 24-hours-a-day.

Mothers should be referred to breast-feeding support groups on discharge from hospital.

I would like to develop this last recommendation further.

A recent survey of both the Hospital Authority and private hospitals, conducted by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association, recorded a 59 per cent response to the question of referring mothers for breast-feeding support.

A difference must be made between a mother-to-mother support group and a hospital hot-line.

In Hong Kong I have managed to find only one mother-to-mother support group, La Leche League - Hong Kong LLL-HK.

Mother-to-mother groups are meetings where mothers gather together and have a discussion guided by a trained leader.

Many mothers are referred to ILL-HK at anti-natal classes.

No mother contacting this group has said she has been referred on being discharged from hospital.

There are also five hospital hot-lines, all staffed by professional medical staff. I do not wish to detract from medical hot-lines as they clearly fulfil a much needed role here in Hong Kong, especially as there are so few support groups.

When a mother contacts a medical hot-line with a problem and is helped, however, it can in fact add to her reliance on medical staff for subsequent problems.

Whereas when a mother joins a support group, she will hear how other mothers have solved their problems.

She will possibly hear two or three different approaches.

Because this information comes from other mothers and not medical staff she is in a better position to disregard that which she feels uncomfortable with and accept and work into her own solution that which feels is right.

The fact that she has arrived at her own solution rather than just taken that given by someone else, empowers her to tackle her next problem with more skill and confidence.