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Pleasure instead of duty – When it comes to breastfeeding, Norway is the shining example

13/2004, 01.10.2004

International Symposium at BfR to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the National Committee for the Promotion of Breastfeeding

Human milk is the best, most practical and cheapest food for newborn babies. Breastfeeding should, therefore, come naturally to mothers. But this is not the case when you look at the current statistics. More than 90 percent of babies born in hospital in Germany are indeed put to their mother’s breast. However, by the time they are six months old, only 48 percent of them are still enjoying the super cocktail. That’s not enough, according to BfR, because human milk is exactly tailored to the infant’s needs and protects both mother and child from disease. “The National Breastfeeding Committee within BfR, which was set up 10 years ago, has set itself the goal of achieving the Norwegian position” explained its Chairwoman Professor Hildegard Przyrembel. “There, 80 percent of babies aged six months are still being exclusively breastfed”.

The reasons behind the Norwegian “breastfeeding miracle” are one of the subjects at the International Symposium. To mark its 10th anniversary the National Breastfeeding Committee has invited experts from all over the world to Berlin. About 30 years ago Norway was in a similar position to Germany today. As a consequence of the medicalisation of birth, separation of mothers from their newborns on hygiene grounds and the constant availability of formula in bottles at the right (i.e. dictated by doctors) time meant that the number of mothers who were still breastfeeding their babies at six months had fallen to 30 percent. “The reversal of the trend began in the 1970s”, says Professor Gro Nylander from the Rikshospitalet in Oslo. “It reflects the new self-assurance of women but also results from the fact that the state and public health care created conditions, together with employers, which enable Norwegians to exclusively breastfeed their babies for more than six months. This has been accompanied by a fundamental change in public opinion which no longer sees breastfeeding as a duty but as a pleasure.“

The fact that the number of mothers, who breastfeed for more than six months, is on the increase in Germany is certainly due in no small part to the unflagging awareness-raising efforts of the BfR National Breastfeeding Committee. Its members – doctors, midwives, breastfeeding counsellors and self-help groups – all work together to achieve improved breastfeeding conditions in hospital, at the workplace and in the private sphere. It is a strategy of small but effective steps which is being pursued here. And it is successful. One of its achievements is that the production of free daily portions of infant formula was halted in 2004. Samples of that kind tempted some mothers in the past to not even consider breastfeeding but to immediately accustom their babies to the bottle.

Other main topics at the Symposium focus on the possible impact of breastfeeding on infections and the development of allergies, obesity or Diabetes mellitus in children. Breastfeeding is not a universal remedy and does not offer absolute protection but breastfed children are far less prone to infections of the upper respiratory and intestinal tracts. Observations spanning many years indicate that human milk can indeed provide some protection against allergies and that breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity. Furthermore, breastfed children are also less at risk of developing Diabetes mellitus Type 1.

The Symposium will also look at the issue of when sick mothers should not breastfeed their babies on health grounds. Only a very small number of diseases are considered to be an obstacle to breastfeeding. In the opinion of the experts, mothers with a Hepatitis C infection can indeed breastfeed. But this does not apply to HIV-infected mothers who should not breastfeed. The mothers concerned should definitely seek expert advice.

Sick and not fully developed children should also, if possibe, be allowed to enjoy human milk. This requires special efforts by the staff on the maternity wards.

Another, important aspect of promoting and providing advice on breastfeeding is the supply of information for fellow citizens who do not speak German. That’s why the National Breastfeeding Committee publishes its brochures in different langugaes. Information about breastfeeding is available free of charge in German, Turkish, Russian, Italian or English from the office of the National Breastfeeding Committee within BfR. The address is: Thielallee 88-92, 14195 Berlin. Orders can also be placed by email ( or fax (030-8412 3715).

The abstracts of the presentations can be accessed on our homepage ( under “Events/Further information”.