The government is to be commended for attending to the needs of non-breastfeeding mothers so that their infants do not lack formula milk.
It is ironic that breastfeeding mothers requesting such high-level policy direction, multi-bureau participation and injection of resources to ensure their infants are able to be breastfed have not been met with the same vigour.
Support of breastfeeding is not just the responsibility of the Department of Health's Family Health Service. Breastfeeding mothers need high-level government policy direction with the collaboration of different bureaus and departments.
The Food and Health Bureau can ensure hospitals have in place a system to facilitate mothers to breastfeed without the need to start adding formula milk even before going home after giving birth, as well as a 24-hour hotline to assist on breastfeeding. The Labour and Welfare Bureau can see that the duration of maternity leave gives mothers the opportunity to establish breastfeeding before returning to work. The extended leave can be subsidised by the government with our budget surplus to reduce employers' resistance. Meanwhile, mothers taking unpaid leave should have job security guaranteed.
The Buildings Department can transform recommendations on baby care rooms from diagrams on paper to actual provisions. The Transport and Housing Bureau can at least ask for breastfeeding rooms to be provided in all MTR stations. The Education Bureau can deter the infiltration of commercial formula-milk marketing into education material. Children should be taught breastfeeding as the norm. The Department of Justice can enact laws, including the protection of mothers who wish to breastfeed in public places and non-discrimination at the workplace.
The supply issue of infant formula milk in Hong Kong is only partly the result of concerns over food safety on the mainland and the price difference of formula milk. The root problem is Hong Kong mothers' unnecessary over-reliance on formula milk. The chief executive says that nothing concerning people's livelihood is too small to matter. Our infants being able to be breastfed is no small matter. It is their best endowment for lifelong health. The government has taken the right step to regulate the marketing of formula milk and food products for infants and young children.
This is an opportune moment to take a comprehensive approach to the feeding of infants and young children instead of once again doing crisis intervention.
Dr Patricia Ip, chairman, Unicef Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association