Baby, or infant, formula is a manufactured food for babies often used as a substitute for breast milk. It is a powder or liquid concentrate that is mixed with water and fed through a bottle. It is widely used in Asia, which represents 53% of the global market share. In Hong Kong, a shortage in availability of baby formula led to restrictions on how much could be taken out of the city and into mainland China.
Health officials fail to emphasise importance of breastfeeding
The baby formula saga rolls on, and as a public health researcher I have been waiting to see media coverage of someone from the Department of Health or the Food and Health Bureau pointing out three important facts.
First, if you are the parent of a child 12 months or older, stop panic-buying formula and stop using it. Evidence used by the World Health Organisation to determine its infant nutrition policies shows children can have a diet of family foods and regular full-fat cow's milk.
Breastfed babies and their mothers continue to enjoy significant benefits from breastfeeding for two years and beyond, but for babies already on formula, there is no benefit to continuing with so-called follow-on formulas.
Of course the formula industry, through its intensive and sustained marketing efforts, has convinced many parents they should continue to use its products for years. But who is more trustworthy, a global public health organisation with no financial interest in your feeding choices, or the formula industry that stands or falls on how long it can convince you to buy its processed food product?
Second, if you are unable to buy your preferred brand of formula, just switch brands.
They are all equally inferior to breast milk, and the differences that various manufacturers push in their advertising, as they jostle with each other for market share, have no nutritional significance.
Finally, if you are pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, educate yourself and your family about breastfeeding, read about it from reliable sources, talk to other breastfeeding mothers, and work out a plan to continue breastfeeding once you go back to work.
It is not easy but it may be easier than you think.
Understand the real risks to your baby's health posed by formula feeding (you won't get this information from the formula companies).
When you get to hospital, don't let the staff sabotage the successful establishment of breastfeeding by giving your baby infant formula under any circumstances, other than absolutely unavoidable medical need.
Research I have done in this area shows that even one or two bottles of formula in hospital can derail the breastfeeding relationship by undermining the mother's confidence in her ability to feed her own child, and has health risks for the baby too.
These are the messages I have been waiting for government policymakers and health officials to convey. Why haven't they?
Jane Parry, Shek O