Japan’s nuclear crisis sparks panic buying of milk powder in Hong Kong Developing a “Breastfeeding Friendly City” as a long term solution


Japan’s nuclear crisis sparks panic buying of milk powder in Hong Kong Developing a “Breastfeeding Friendly City” as a long term solution

Hong Kong, 26 March 2011 – Following the Mainland’s melamine-tainted milk powder incidents, the triple disaster in Japan has again triggered a deep concern for food safety in Hong Kong, resulting in the public’s panic bulk buying of Japanese milk powder out of the fear of a possible radioactive contamination. As milk is the unique source of baby food, unreliable breastmilk substitutes will thence pose adverse impacts on babies’ health and growth, threatening their rights to survival and development. Baby food safety and supply is a topic we cannot afford to neglect.
In fact, many mothers in Hong Kong are well aware of the benefits of breastmilk, but the lack of a favourable environment in the community has laid obstacles in mothers’ path to sustained breastfeeding. This leads to a heavy reliance on formula milk in Hong Kong and puts parents and babies in a series of baby food crises. Dr Patricia Ip, Chairman of UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association, pointed out, “To solve the root of the problem, every sector in society, including the Government, health, business, parents and every citizen have a role to play in reducing Hong Kong’s heavy reliance on formula milk. It is time we opt for breastmilk, the safest and most reliable, to nurture our future generations.”

Breastfeeding mothers often experience staring, inappropriate comments, and sometimes even being urged to stop. The prejudice against breastfeeding has further hindered Hong Kong from building a breastfeeding friendly environment. “Although big shopping malls are setting up baby care rooms for mothers to breastfeed, there is still a long way to go. In fact, if there were more promotion by the Government to enhance the public’s knowledge and acceptance of breastfeeding, mothers would no longer need to hide in a room to breastfeed,” commented Ms Millie Wong, Chairlady of the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers’ Association. Ms Maggie Yu, Chairman of La Leche League-Hong Kong also emphasised that a good medical policy is an important cornerstone of success in breastfeeding. This includes skin-to-skin contact with the mother at birth, not separating mothers and babies, provide timely and sufficient support to breastfeeding mothers and saying no to mixed feeing.

Besides healthier mothers and babies, breastfeeding also brings about many surprising benefits, which include comforting affected mothers and babies in emergency situations. Ms Irene Chan, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF pointed out, “Breastfeeding is especially important during disasters. Not only does it prevent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses of babies caused by unclean water sources, it also eases both the mother and baby’s psychological stress and emotional distress.” UNCIEF is currently working with pro-breastfeeding societies in Japan to help affected mothers to continue breastfeeding and even re-lactate, ensuring their rights to the benefits of breastfeeding.

On the other hand, breastfeeding also contributes to considerable economic benefits. A US research showed that the cost of purchasing formula may be almost twice the cost of the additional food intake required by breastfeeding mothers, amounting to a net cost of US$885 (HK$ 6,903) during the first year of an infant’s life. Other researches also indicated that breastfeeding can substantially lower public healthcare expenses as well as medical claims.

To ensure a better and healthier start for Hong Kong’s future generations and to promote economic development, UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association, the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers Association, La Leche League Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF joined hands at the press conference to urge the government to develop Hong Kong into a “Breastfeeding Friendly City” and offered the following 6 recommendations:

1. Improve maternity protection
2. Provide breastfeeding friendly community facilities
3. Implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding outlined by UNICEF/WHO
4. Establish a Hong Kong breastfeeding policy
5. Set up a Central Breastfeeding Committee
6. Adopt the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and relevant subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions