WHO figures from 21 European countries show only 13% of mothers exclusively feed their babies until six months, despite bans and restrictions on infant formula marketing in the European Union and many European countries and restrictions on follow-on formula marketing. In south east Asia the rate is 43%.
Mothers in low-income and education situations were more likely to choose formula before their babies reach six months of age or not begin breastfeeding at all.
“Mothers with low socioeconomic status are up to 10 times less likely to begin breastfeeding, and this tendency is transmitted through generations,” the WHO said.
It added: “The average rate of exclusive breastfeeding thus remains far below the global recommendation, although the rates vary substantially across the Region. Even though the rate of early initiation of breastfeeding is very high in some countries, exclusive breastfeeding rates drop rapidly between 4 and 6 months of age and are very low at 6 months.”
“Poverty, difficulty in accessing health services, social marginalization, obesity (many pregnant women are now overweight or obese), policies in the workplace and the employment market, marketing of breast-milk substitutes, commercial ‘follow-on’ and complementary foods are just some of the reasons for low breastfeeding rates and inequality in the WHO European Region.”
The WHO urged countries to follow the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes which outlines measures to control formula marketing.
- enacting legislation to restrict the marketing and promotion of infant formulas and other products used as breast-milk substitutes;
- monitoring and enforcing effective sanctions in case of violations;
- engaging in partnerships with civil society organizations to help governments advocate for enactment, implementation, enforcement and monitoring of the Code.
Most of the major formula firms like Nestlé and Danone-Nutricia have come under fire for illegally promoting the use of formula in various countries.
WHO recommends that breastfeeding commences “within the first hour of birth and be exclusive for 6 months, with the introduction of complementary food after 6 months and continued breastfeeding up until 2 years or beyond.”
Last week’s World Breastfeeding Week encouraged family-friendly policies in the workplace to support breastfeeding.