Mother's milk best for all little miracles
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-02-20 07:40

Looks like the milk scare is refusing to die. As if the melamine-contaminated milk scandal hadn't extracted a big enough health and mental price, dozens of kids have fallen ill after taking "melamine-free" milk food. The melamine-contamination scare, too, began with a small number of cases before it claimed six infants' lives and left about 300,000 with various urinary tract ailments, including kidney stones. But let's hope the cases won't multiply in geometric progression this time.

Hope cannot be a solution to the problem, though. Parents have to find a way of keeping their newborns safe and healthy. And surprisingly, they don't need the help of governments or baby milk food companies for that. Nature solved that problem even before the first human child was born: mother's milk. But we, especially the literate, urban, "forward-looking" section of society, have foolishly chosen to forget that simple fact of life. And that's not a small price to pay for our blind rush to adapt to the so-called modern (or is it postmodern) lifestyle.

Innumerous studies have shown there's no substitute for mother's milk. UNICEF made it one of its most potent campaigns to fight ailments among young children long ago. Mother's milk provides indisputable health benefits, as research shows breastfed infants have improved general health, growth and development, and a lower risk of many acute and chronic illnesses than bottle-fed infants. Scientists say babies who are breastfed are less prone to obesity - the bane of modern society across the developed and many developing nations. What's more, breastfeeding develops a stronger emotional bond between mother and child.

Mother's milk makes a lot of economic sense, too, for it can save money spent on unnecessary bottled products and supplements. But these are times of extravagant advertising techniques that convince viewers and readers that infant formula is more nutritious than mother's milk. The age of advertising is also the age of gullibility.

The period between birth and a child's first birthday sees it double or even triple in weight. Vital organs such as the brain develop rapidly in the first few months. And for all this, an infant relies on a single source of food for at least six months. If we humans follow the laws of nature, that source would be mother's milk. But many of us feed them with the brand of infant formula that a producer manages to convince us has everything and more for the child's healthy growth. That's why a milk scare like last year's can make parents of infants feel all the more helpless.

Our mothers and grandmothers knew everything about breastfeeding. But since these are different times and we seem to have forgotten the basic rules of nature, here's what experts mean by breastfeeding: breastfeeding a newborn for the first six months without any supplements and continuing to do so while adding adequate nourishment till it is two years old.

This is also the age of cosmetic beauty - or cosmetic enhancement of beauty. Even many women who acknowledge that the benefits of breastfeeding are unquestionable, choose not to for fear of developing "sagging breasts". For the benefit of such mothers, no research has shown a connection between breastfeeding and sagging breasts.

But we have to concede it's not possible for working mothers to stay home for six months to suckle their children. A white-collar mother may be able to afford it, but what about the millions of women who migrate from villages to cities for work?

It is here that the government has to step in and implement regulations on maternity leave. But first, can we please have an aggressive nationwide campaign saying mother's milk is best for the child.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com

(China Daily 02/20/2009 page8)