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UN Urges Mothers to Breast Feed Infants


The United Nations says decreasing breast-feeding rates in the Asia-Pacific region pose a threat to child survival. The U.N. says that each year more than one million babies around the world could be saved from life-threatening diseases through breast-feeding. The agency and regional health authorities say more needs to be done to encourage breast-feeding and to restrict the marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Marichu Daguinotas has five children. Her youngest is only one month old.

"I try to breast-feed my baby. But I also work part-time as a laundry woman. I have no choice but to bottle-feed him at times."

Many mothers in this slum in the Philippines' Cebu City say they have heard that breast milk is best for babies. But health officials say it is hard to get mothers to breast-feed instead of using baby formula or cows' milk.

Breast milk contains antibodies and nutrients vital to growth and development. Experts say babies should be fed only breast milk for the first six months of life.

Dr. Patricia Ip is with UNICEF's Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in Hong Kong.

"A lot of concerns we have these days like obesity, hypertension, children having diabetes � these sort of conditions are reduced by mother's breast-feeding."

Back in the Philippines, the Cebu Medical Center bans formula feeding. Dr. Charles Cabatana checks in the maternity ward to see if anyone is bottle-feeding.

In the Philippines, the breast-feeding rate has fallen to 16 percent from 20 percent in 1998. Medical authorities worry this may be partly due to the aggressive promotion of powdered baby formula.

"If you can see on TV, some milk companies actually claim that if babies will drink their milk they become gifted, become talented when actually it is not true. The breast milk of the mothers is intended for babies and not cow's milk."

The U.N. says only 35 percent of mothers in the Asia-Pacific region breast-feed their babies for the first six months. In Hong Kong, the rate is 12 percent.

"I think the problem we have is that a lot of mothers actually know that breast-feeding is good. But they do not have enough support to help them to breast-feed successfully."

Experts call for greater community support for breast-feeding. In crowded Asian cities, like Hong Kong, there often is no place for mothers to express milk at work, or to nurse in public places, pushing them to use formula.

Marichu Daguinotas says she is aware that breast milk is good for her baby. Her fourth child, Rodney, is malnourished and she suspects it is because he was bottle-fed. But this is not stopping her from bottle-feeding the new baby.

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