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Marie Tarrant, an associate professor in the School of Nursing at Hong Kong University agrees that Hong Kong is lagging behind in breastfeeding.

For instance, not a single Hong Kong hospital has gained Baby-friendly Hospital status. The award is given by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation to hospitals for promoting breastfeeding and dissuading mothers from using formula. There are over 6,000 baby-friendly hospitals in mainland China.

Most public hospitals lack dedicated lactation consultants to assist mothers with breastfeeding and the nurses are overworked. “They do want to provide the support for breastfeeding. They just don’t have the time, they are too busy,” she says.

To remedy the situation, Tarrant suggests there should be a lactation consultant on every shift who could help initiate breastfeeding and help mothers to nurse. However, she does acknowledge the Hong Kong Hospital Authority is making improvements to make their hospitals more baby-friendly. Starting from April 2010, public hospitals and some private hospitals have banned all milk supplement promotions. They no longer give out free milk formula samples to mothers.

Many Hospital Authority hospitals are also promoting skin-to-skin-contact between mother and baby immediately after birth. Medical research shows that breastfeeding babies immediately after giving birth can increase the level of antibodies in the babies and increase the success rate for breastfeeding.

However, milk formula companies still give free samples and other gifts to private clinics and sponsor many continuing education activities for doctors. Given the financial relationship between these clinics and milk formula companies, Tarrant worries mothers might get misleading and confusing advice from private doctors.

Besides infant formulas, Tarrant suggests the promotion of so-called follow-up or follow-on formulas should also be regulated. She says that with a global increase in breastfeeding, formula producers have sought to create another, highly lucrative market for follow-on formulas. These are aimed at babies aged from six months, who are ready to start supplementing milk with simple solid food, to toddlers who can get all the nutrients they need from solid foods. Tarrant says most of these children do not need follow-on formula.

“The claim they made about these formula is absolutely false,” says Tarrant. “There is no nutritional benefit in these follow-on formulas.” She adds that some nutrients that come naturally from breast milk which are beneficial to babies do not have the same effect when added to milk formulas.


  1. Congratulations, Jeff and Tracy, on your careful and thoughtful exploration of an important topic! As the medical experts you quoted said, breast really is best – but like most biologically-based behaviour, breastfeeding involves some learning and a supportive community. Since a lot of the traditional networks are no longer present in Hong Kong (as you explained) maybe the internet and online social networks could be used to “show and tell”, share experience, and help build support for breastfeeding – and university students, like yourselves, can lead the way in campaigning for effective breastfeeding education – not just “how to” for new mums but public education on the value of breastfeeding, workplace support for lactating mothers, and a public health code with strong backing for breast-milk over formula. I breastfed my children (now grown up) for a year each, and weaned them on to cow’s milk and solid food bit by bit – I’m so glad I did, and would be happy to think that the young women I teach in Hong Kong can have the same experience – and yes, without putting their careers on hold. Go, go, Jeff and Tracy – hope your article starts a debate, and a movement for change!

  2. In this information explosion era, for the same strong commercial reason, I hope the baby formula company will shift their business in breast feeding equipment and accessaries. Similar to the cloth diaper business which might be more sustainable and profitable in a long run. It is a freedom of choice which is important to all the parents. New parents should have the right to understand the pros and cons for both choices. (Mother of two, breastfeed til 1 year / 7 months)

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