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Breastfeeding - It could be longer!

27/2006, 29.09.2006

Initial results of the latest studies on breastfeeding behaviour show that breastfeeding mothers require more support

Around 90 percent of mothers interviewed in Berlin breastfeed their babies after birth. This is the initial result of a comprehensive study by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on breastfeeding behaviour in Berlin. "This is good news. It shows that our work in this area has borne fruit", says Professor Dr. Hildegard Przyrembel, Chairwoman of the National Breastfeeding Commission within the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment. "We are still not happy with the fact that mothers in Germany start giving breastmilk substitutes and complementary food early on". After 12 years’ of awareness raising work by the National Breastfeeding Commission the study reveals that more than half of mothers do not follow the recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding their babies for the first six months for different reasons. In this context the National Breastfeeding Commission stresses the need to enforce the ban on distributing free-of-charge samples of infant formula.

The goal of the study launched in 2004 at BfR was to collect up-to-date data on breastfeeding duration and behaviour of mothers. Besides around 4,000 women in childbed in hospitals and birth houses in Berlin, mothers were also interviewed who participated with their children in the early detection examinations in paediatric surgeries. An initial evaluation reveals that too many mothers start giving infant formula to their babies earlier than recommended . They are also too quick to feed their babies complementary food and stop breastfeeding too soon. These results are similar to those of the 1997/1998 study on breastfeeding and children’s nutrition (SuSe) of the Research Institute for Child Nutrition in Dortmund. Furthermore, the data on “Breastfeeding behaviour in Bavaria“ collected by the Bavarian Regional Office for Health and Food Safety in 2005 confirm the Berlin results. All these findings indicate that a great deal of work needs to be done when it comes to promoting breastfeeding in the future, too.

The knowledge that breastfeeding is superior to breastmilk substitutes and the understanding of the importance of breastfeeding for the healthy development of the infant were what prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1981 to draw up the "International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes“. The aim of this Code is “to contribute to the provision of safe and adequate nutrition for infants, by the protection and promotion of breastfeeding, and by ensuring the proper use of breastmilk substitutes, when these are necessary, on the basis of adequate information and through appropriate marketing and distribution.”

The National Breastfeeding Commission stresses that today - 25 years later - we are moving in the right direction in Germany. However, the ban in Germany on distributing free-of-charge samples of infant formula to pregnant women or mothers is not always respected. The manufacturers represented within the German Association for Nutritional and Dietary Food have decided to no longer distribute samples of this kind and are keeping their promise. During the World Breastfeeding Week from 2 to 8 October 2006 the National Breastfeeding Committee explicitly calls on the other manufacturers and distributors to no longer distribute free-of-charge packs to pregnant women and the mothers of newborn babies.