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August 10, 2009

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Still not enough babies breast-fed

CHINA is still lagging behind national and global breast-feeding targets, health experts say. Only 20 percent of mothers in China breast-feed their infants for at least six months.

Chinese newspaper Health News reported on Saturday just 45.3 percent of babies of four months or younger were breast-fed, while only 21.6 percent were breast-fed between four and six months.

The findings come from a recent study of urban mothers, who are more likely to cease breast-feeding early than their rural counterparts.

The rates are far behind World Health Organization targets, which suggest all infants of six months or younger be fully breast-fed, said Yin Shi'an, a researcher with the Nutrition and Food Safety Institute of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yin said scientific research had proved breast-feeding provided the best, most balanced food for newborns. A study of 2,160 Chinese infants, between 1998 and 2004, showed that breast-feeding could help development of the neural system and dramatically lower the rate of infant eczema.

China's national action plan for children's development, issued in 2001, said at least 85 percent of infants of four months or younger should be breast-fed.

But only 66.4 percent of mothers breast-fed in cities and 74.6 percent in rural areas in 2002, a national survey on nutrition and health found.

In recent years, breast-feeding rates have dropped even further in some areas, largely because of some mothers' ignorance and aggressive promotion of baby formula.

Ren Yuwen, a Chinese expert with La Leche League, an international nonprofit organization that promotes breast-feeding, said almost all ads for baby formula products are misleading, claiming their product make babies "smarter" and "healthier."

In 1995 China ordered restrictions on the use and promotion of substitute milk products for infants up to six months. "Unfortunately, businesses have just been ignoring the order and always try to mislead mothers to use baby formulas," Ren said.

Experts said education about breast-feeding should be intensified, while workplaces should provide friendly environments for new mothers to breast-feed babies.


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