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Feeding without bottles

By Dephanie Yeung

Every mother naturally tries to provide the best things for her baby — a clean, safe living place, pretty clothes, safe toys and so on.

Of these, the most basic one is good nutrition. So mothers take extra care in choosing which milk powder to buy.

Mothers tend to think that they have only to choose between different brands. Actually, they can have another decision to make: to breastfeed or bottlefeed.

Nowadays the rate of breastfeeding in Hong Kong is pitifully low, according to some experts.

“Even China is ahead of us in this respect,” said Dr. Sophie S. F. Leung, a senior lecturer of the Department of Paediatrics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

According to the United Nations International Emergency Fund, breastfeeding has many advantages to babies as well as their mothers.

Breast milk provides infants with a balanced diet which they need during the first four to six months after they are born.

Breast milk, when combined with some appropriate weaning foods, can provide valuable nourishment for babies until they pass their second birthday.

Besides, the first and strongest immunities that babies develop usually comes from colostrum, a substance produced in the first few days of feeding breast milk. Breast milk also contains antibodies that protect infants against bacterial diseases, say experts.

Another advantage is that breastfed infants are less likely to have diarrhoea. Bottlefed infants are at least twice as likely to be infected, and their chances of dying from this illness are thus higher.

Said Dr. Leung: “Generally speaking, there is no substitute for human milk. Even milk powder is not enough for a newborn.”

Mothers will also benefit. When suckling starts within the first hour, the placenta is expelled faster, and the risk of afterbirth bleeding, which can be fatal, is reduced.

Breastfeeding also substantially lowers a mother's chances of having breast cancer and protects them against ovarian cancer.

Added to this is the fact that frequent suckling maintains a high level of progesterone in mothers’ bodies. This can inhibit ovulation and therefore an untimely pregnancy.

Although bonding between mother and child is a continuous process, the first hour of a baby’s life is important.

When breastfeeding, mother and baby imprint each other’s smell, voices and faces on each other's minds. The magical and invisible connection is then established between them.

In the developing world, bottlefed infants’ morbidities are higher because of a direct result of insufficient nutrient and unsterilized feeding bottles.

“Usually, mothers feeding their babies with milk powder, especially in poor countries, tend to use less than the required quantity of milk powder for a given amount of water. “This will result in malnutrition,” said Dr. Leung.

“Besides, the water used for dissolving milk powder is always unclean and may contain germs and bacteria,” added Dr. Leung.

However, breastfeeding a baby is not so easy. Many mothers feel confused with the problems arising from breastfeeding.

Miss Vivian Leung, the chairlady of the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mother’s Association, admitted that she had sore nipples, breast infection and insufficient milk when she breastfed her two children.

In order to solve the problems, one is advised to consult professionals and have a balanced diet and enough rest.

“When my baby was 6 months old, I found that he was not as chubby as those who were bottlefed, and I doubted whether my milk was as good as milk powder.

“The doctor first checked my baby and found everything was normal. She assured me that my milk is always nutritious enough.

“My doctor also told me that a fat baby does not necessarily mean a healthy baby,” said Ms Leung, laughing.

In fact, medical professionals are a source of comfort for breastfeeding mothers.

“Medical professionals should give mothers confidence and assure them that human milk is the first and foremost choice for a newborn and milk powder can never compare with human milk,” said Miss Leung.

For Miss Christina Liu Tuen Wah, breastfeeding is easy.

“I do like this practice, since I do not have to wash and sterilize the milk bottles. Breastfeeding keeps my baby healthy,” said Miss Liu.

Miss Liu emphasized that mothers have to be aware of their personal cleanliness.

Said the coordinator of the Hong Kong Breastfeeding Mothers Association: “When my baby sucked, it activated hormones and made me feel relaxed and sensual. I think it’s a pity that men cannot have such a good feeling.”

Even though there are so many benefits, the rate of breastfeeding is still low not only in Hong Kong, but also in the rest of the world.

“This should be attributed to the successful promotion of milk powder manufacturers,” said Dr. Sophie S.F. Leung of the Paediatrics Department at the Chinese University. Usually, milk powder manufacturers provide mothers with free milk powder immediately after born.

She also specifically pointed out that there is a lack of support service in local public hospitals.

“It can be easily proved by the fact that the breastfeeding rate in the private maternity wards, with more supportive service, is higher,” said Dr. Leung.

In view of this, local public hospitals are beginning to allocate more resources to this field. The Prince of Wales Hospital has started to run a bedside assistance program to teach breastfeeding techniques, as well as a hotline service about breastfeeding and a support group.

November 1996

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