Breast milk 'best for preventing infections'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 4:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 4:02am

Long-term breastfeeding can dramatically reduce the possibility of the baby having to be admitted to hospital, a medical and scientific study going back 17 years shows.

The findings come from a study by academics at the University of Hong Kong's medical faculty, who are tracking the progress of 8,327 children born in 1997. Their research found that breastfeeding for the first three months or more reduced the risk of hospital admission for an infection by 36 per cent. Children are most susceptible to infectious diseases in their first six months.

"The longer a child is breastfed, the more obvious the benefits," said Dr Chow Chun-bong, honorary professor at the university and a consultant paediatrician at Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung.

The findings were revealed as the study's contribution to a debate over regulation on milk powder marketing. The Health Bureau is due to announce on Monday the findings of a consultation on a voluntary code of conduct for formula advertising.

The study on the 1997 children found that just 6 per cent of mothers breastfed their children exclusively for at least three months, while 37 per cent breastfed them some of the time.

HKU experts highlighted World Health Organisation statistics to support the call for advertising rules. Breastfeeding for six months or more cuts the risk of diabetes by 34 per cent, obesity by 22 per cent and asthma by 9 per cent, they said.

Professor Gabriel Leung, HKU's dean of medicine, said the HK$2.7 billion spent on formula advertising each year was more than his faculty's budget. He said the code would help parents make an "informed choice".

"Many of the advertisements make ungrounded claims," said Dr Patrick Ip, an associate professor of paediatrics at HKU. "The mother's milk is a tailor-made formula … No matter what is put into formula - it will fall short."