By Camille John Community Dietitian, Ministry of Health
On May 21, 1981, the World Health Assembly (WHA) approved the "International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes" as a key instrument for protecting breastfeeding.

Commercial marketing of baby meals has been linked to negative health effects on infants.
Mothers, health professionals, public health specialists, feminists, and activists fought against the corporate push for powdered milk formula over decades, making it possible. Additionally, it prohibits contacting mothers directly, providing free samples or discounts, promoting at healthcare facilities, sponsoring meetings of health workers' associations, and research.

WHO and UNICEF are calling on governments to protect and promote women’s access to skilled breastfeeding counselling, a critical component of breastfeeding support. WHO and UNICEF aim to promote improved protection for breastfeeding mothers, who are vulnerable to harmful impacts from the food business that manufactures breast-milk substitutes (BMS). Babies should be breastfed. Breast-milk substitutes should be offered, when necessary, but not marketed.

While all infants should be exclusively breastfed throughout the first six months of life, this is frequently not the case. According to the most recent available data from the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2016, only 47% of infants are exclusively breastfed throughout their first six months. This is much below than the national objective of 58% set by the Ministry of Health.

The benefits of breastfeeding are well recognized. Breastfeeding protects babies against infection. Breastfed children and adolescents are less likely to be overweight or obese. They perform better on intelligence tests and have greater school attendance rates. Breastfeeding is related with higher earnings later in life.

There are various reasons why breastfeeding rates are low. These include workplace and time constraints for working moms, a lack of understanding and misconceptions regarding breastfeeding, and a lack of family and community support. In some circumstances, various medical issues can make it difficult for some mothers.

Mothers are also susceptible to being swayed by aggressive marketing of breastmilk replacements, which frequently target them before their infants are born. The marketing of formula milk and other breastmilk substitutes can influence women's choices and lead to a decrease in nursing rates, which is why The Code was established to protect breastfeeding moms.

Therefore, as we celebrate World Breastfeeding Protection Day, we urge the government to strengthen the existing policies and introduce new measures that fully align with The Code. We also urge all healthcare workers to support the full implementation of The Code.
Additionally, we call on the breastmilk substitute companies to publicly commit to adhere to The Code.

SOURCE: Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment