Excessive advertising of infant milk formulas could be curbed if breastfeeding associations can persuade the government to legislate an advertising code.
Parents and breastfeeding advocates are upset by what they see as brainwashing over the benefits of formula.
Advertisements for milk formula "are sent to me via samples, SMS, e-mail, catalogues, Facebook, games and lucky draws", said Joan Lu Yung-kuen, a 37-year-old mother of two boys. "They call to ask me how I feed my child and promote their milk formula."
Millie Wong Pui-seung, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers' Association, said formula manufacturers had been advertising their products since the 1960s.
"They try to make the public think formula milk is better than breast milk, or that their child will be more special, in order to market their products," she said.
Patricia Ip Lai-sheung, chairwoman of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association, says last year formula manufacturers spent about HK$1.6 billion on marketing.
Maggie Yu Yuen-ling, leader of the La Leche League, a breastfeeding support group, said all these messages made it hard for parents to ignore the products.
"If there is no legislation, how can normal parents resist the effectiveness of these advertisements?" she said.
A marketing code for breast-milk substitutes is now undergoing public consultation, which will end next month. If the code is written into law, companies will no longer be able to market milk formula through educational activities or by using health-care staff. Nor could product labels promote formula as being as good as breast milk. TV advertising would be discouraged.
The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes released by the World Health Organisation in 1981 emphasised that breastfeeding was an unequalled way of providing the ideal food for infants.