by Michael Woodhead
Breast feeding rates among Chinese women have declined dramatically in the last decade, and are now as low as 16% for women living in urban areas, official figures show.
The proportion of women in China breast feeding up to six months declined from 67% in 1998 to 28%, according to an article in China Youth Daily.
Data from the National Health and Family Planning Commission show that breast feeding rates are now 16% for urban women and 30% is for rural women.
The dramatic reduction in breast feeding rates has been blamed on society attitudes, pressure from workplaces and extensive promotion of milk formulas to new mothers.
In theory, Chinese women are encouraged to breast feed with protections written into law that guarantee them two 30 minute breast feeding breaks at work without being penalized in their income. Breast feeding mothers are also guaranteed an additional one month of maternity leave by law.
However, although many women start breast feeding in hospital they soon stop because the reality of the workplace is that there is no encouragement to breast feed and often many obstacles. Most workplaces do not have places where mothers can breast feed and many women feel under pressure from employers against breast feeding.
The other major factor in deterring breastfeeding is the promotion of milk formula, experts say. Despite the introduction of milk formula advertising regulations in 2006, milk formula is still promoted aggressively and misleadingly to women in China. Claims are made that milk formula is ‘just as good’ as breast milk and more convenient.
Experts say it is difficult for public hospital maternity nurses and doctors to counter the extensive and well-funded ‘propaganda’ of the milk formula companies, which lead to many women being misinformed about the relative benefits of breast feeding and formula feeding. They recommend that breastfeeding should continue for at least for six months and up to the first birthday if possible.
Professor Zheng Lu of the department of community health at Tsinghua University said there was a need for more societal support for breast feeding. He said there was a need for nursing rooms in workplaces and other positive incentives for women to encourage breastfeeding.