The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday voiced alarm at the decline of breastfeeding across East Asia, and stressed the need to ensure that mothers understand the long-term benefits of this important practice for the survival and development of their children.
According to the UN agency, evidence shows that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life not only improves their future growth and educational achievement, but also significantly reduces national health costs and helps prevent chronic malnutrition.
The low breastfeeding rates across East Asia result from economic developments that enable more women to enter the workforce, as well as "aggressive" marketing of infant formula in the region, UNICEF said in a news release issued here.
"The falling rates of breastfeeding across East Asia are alarming," said UNICEF's nutrition advisor for East Asia and the Pacific, France Begin.
As little as five percent of all mothers breastfeed in Thailand, while around 10 percent do so in Vietnam. In China, only 28 percent of babies are breastfed.
"Mothers across the region face increasing demands on their time, often have to return to work early after childbirth, and may have limited opportunities to breastfeed or express their milk in the workplace," said Begin.
"At the same time, baby food companies are targeting the fast- growing economies in East Asia with aggressive marketing campaigns, persuading mothers to give up breastfeeding and purchase their products despite the drawbacks for their children," she added.
To help stem the decline in breastfeeding rates in the region, UNICEF is calling on baby food companies to adhere to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The Code does not ban the sale of formulas, only the marketing practices that entice mothers to replace their breastmilk with commercial substitutes.
"When companies adhere to the Code of Marketing it will be easier for mothers to make an informed choice," noted Begin. "No formula can substitute the importance of breastmilk for children's survival, growth and development."
UNICEF is also working closely with businesses in the region to ensure that women can enjoy the right to adequate maternity leave and nursing breaks.
Founded in 1946, UNICEF is the driving force that helps build a world where the rights of every child are realized.