On the last Tuesday of every month, a small group of women meet at Tsan Yuk Hospital, Western, to share tips on babies. They discuss the best places to buy clothes and accessories, but the main purpose of the gathering is to talk about a part of mothering which has lost its place in Hong Kong in recent years - breast-feeding. At the meeting, expectant and new mothers are able to ask nurses questions about the technicalities of breast-feeding. But more importantly, they can hear the experiences of other mothers who think breast is best when it comes to feeding a baby. The meetings, started three months ago, are the brainchild of the Breast-feeding Mothers' Association, a new group formed by 10 mothers who advocate the benefits of breast milk. Association secretary Connie Leung Chiu Siu-wai says members, comprising housewives, a herbalist and a dentist, got together in March after deciding that women with breast-feeding experience could play a leading role in convincing other mothers to try it. Figures compiled by the Paediatrics Department of the Chinese University have found only about 45 per cent of local mothers feed their babies with human milk. In Denmark, the United States and Britain, more than 90 per cent of mothers do so. 'There is always a gap between doctors, nurses and mothers,' Ms Leung says. 'They know a lot about the medical side but they lack empathy. Being mothers who have breast-fed our babies, our words are more persuasive. 'The problems faced by the mothers are sometimes beyond the medical aspects. Some of them are deeply frustrated as their mothers-in-law insist they help bottle-feeding the babies. 'We, as mothers, are in a better position to offer answers.' Ms Leung, 35, breast-fed her son for a whole year. Now 21/2, the youngster has only had to visit a clinic three times. 'The first time we needed to take him to see a doctor was for a cough when he was 21 months old. This was the first time we had heard him coughing,' she says. 'Apart from the health aspect, what a baby needs most up to the age of three is body contact. 'When he is being breast-fed, he can feel he is being tended, being loved, that is how he develops the sense of security, while to the mothers the emotional bond is paramount to any physical discomfort,' she says. Nurses say that, despite a long list of benefits of breast-feeding - easily digestible, rich nutritional components, greater immunity to ear infections, upper respiratory tract infections and allergic reactions - mothers give up on breast-feeding several weeks after giving birth. A survey by the Queen Elizabeth hospital between April and May this year found that half the mothers give up breast-feeding six weeks after delivery. Twenty-seven per cent said having a job was the main obstacle; others said they did not have sufficient breast milk. Ms Leung feels many women in Hong Kong are unclear about many aspects of breast-feeding. 'They think their milk will dry up soon after labour. 'On the contrary, as long as baby sucks his mother's nipples, milk will flow. It's similar to the demand-and-supply theory - when there is demand there is supply. 'I used to pump milk in the office and store it in bottles for later use. My colleagues were amazed at seeing me doing this. They said to me: 'You are doing something only our great grandmothers would do.' 'I haven't come across a lot of local Chinese women who feed their babies with their own milk, not to mention for a whole year. But the practice is commonplace in Western countries. 'Working women think breast-feeding stops them from losing weight. 'Indeed, breast milk production consumes hundreds of calories per feed and many of my friends are slim mothers,' she says. As well as the meetings at Tsan Yuk, the association co-organises activities with Queen Elizabeth Hospital which has set up the territory's first breast-feeding clinic to introduce new mothers to the idea of feeding their babies themselves. The clinic, open two afternoons a week, provides consultations for mothers who have given birth at the hospital and know little about breast-feeding. Christine Lam Chi-oi, the first lactation specialist appointed last month in the territory's public hospitals, says the hospital follows up on mothers who have been discharged in a bid to persuade them not to give up on breast-feeding. 'If [the working women] are not being given continuous support, they will give up very quickly. 'We are not sure how long they will keep the habit, but we will tell them to try at least mixed feeding which means they can bottle-feed their babies during the day,' Ms Lam said. 'More importantly we hope we can push the figures on breast-feeding. Now around 40 per cent of mothers at our hospitals do so; we hope in two years' time the number can go up to more than 60 per cent,' she said. At present the Breast-feeding Mothers' Association issues a newsletter, distributed at public hospitals and maternal and child health centres. Ms Leung hopes the group can register as a charitable organisation next month to enable it to apply for grants. 'As we don't have a formal address at the moment we can't enrol a large number of members. But when we have the facilities, we will. 'In the long-term, we hope we can lobby the Government for a more concrete policy supporting breast-feeding,' she says. The Breast-feeding Mothers' Association can be contacted on tel 2540-3282; fax 2540-1220.