SEATTLE — As soon as a baby is born, the mother is overwhelmed by her physician about particular types of baby formula she could use as an alternative method to breastfeeding. Each pediatrician advocates the introduction of a certain brand of infant milk replacement formula into the baby’s diet to the point where the mother is confused about what to choose and forgets completely about the natural source of milk she herself can provide. The lack of awareness about the importance of breastfeeding in Lebanon has not only contributed to increased mortality and morbidity rates among infants, but has also impacted maternal health rates in general.
Breastfeeding in Lebanon: An Overview
Breastfeeding rates in many developing countries have been significantly declining over the past decade. One of these developing nations is Lebanon, as rates of exclusive breastfeeding in Lebanon until the age of six months were reported to be only around 14.9 percent. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding until the age of six months, and advocates for complementary breastfeeding, alongside the introduction of solids, until two years of age.
Comparing the international organization’s recommendations to the situation in Lebanon, statistics show that only one out of seven women abide by exclusive breastfeeding in Lebanon, a public health issue of concern due to the negative impact generated by the administration of baby formula on both maternal and infant health.
The Reason for Low Breastfeeding Rates in Lebanon
The main factor associated with the decrease in breastfeeding rates in Lebanon was the marketing of breast milk substitutes. The main goal of large manufacturing food companies is to market their product, no matter the means or the ends. In other words, infant formula manufacturers have a duty to elevate the sales of baby formula and convince new mothers of the benefits of their nutritional product compared to breastfeeding. Their only focus is to increase the yearly marginal profit despite the adverse health impacts that can be generated from their misleading and faulty advertising activities.
As a result of the conflict of interest hospitals and physicians usually face between receiving extra funds from large food companies and providing their patients with excellent care, the International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes and the Lebanese law 47/2008 protect breastfeeding by prohibiting marketing activities aiming to promote breast milk substitutes. By applying international and national regulations, the detrimental effects on breastfeeding success caused by baby formula promotions could be limited, preventing the increase in misperceptions among mothers about the benefits of using infant formula.
However, despite the presence of multiple laws and international legislation safeguarding the importance of breastfeeding, poor enforcement of these regulations still exists, particularly in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Ministry of Public Health Launches the 2018 National Breastfeeding Campaign
On February 2, 2018, the Department of Mother and Child Health within the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health, in collaboration with UNICEF and the International Orthodox Christian Charity, launched its National Breastfeeding Campaign to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding due to its numerous maternal and infant health advantages.
The General Director of the Ministry, Dr. Walid Ammar, emphasized the irreplaceable value of breastfeeding by focusing on this year’s campaign motto, “Breastfeeding is important, our mission and our responsibility!”. He also empowered new mothers by asserting the ministry’s support throughout their “breastfeeding journey” by granting them the opportunity to ask for help from lactation specialists working either at the ministry or with collaborating NGOs to ensure a smooth nurturing experience for both the mother and child.
The Minister of Public Health, Ghassan Hasbani, emphasized the commitment of the MOPH toward improving the rates of breastfeeding in Lebanon through the implementation of a national plan supporting the promotion and protection of breastfeeding among new infants in the country. The national plan has five major goals:
- Launching the child-friendly Hospital Initiative as an essential criterion for hospitals to receive accreditation in Lebanon.
- The implementation of the breastfeeding initiative in 16 government and private hospitals that have successfully met the qualifications to be considered a child-friendly environment.
- The organization of a training workshop for all residents and nurses in order to ensure the continuous implementation and evaluation of the initiative in their respective hospitals.
- Training for pharmaceutical inspectors in implementing Law No. 47, which dictates that pharmacists are required by law to provide safe, healthy and nutritious products for infants and young children by protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding and educating mothers about the proper use of infant, child and supplementary food when needed.
- The effective launching and dissemination of the National Breastfeeding Support Campaign, which calls for all health professionals, private and public sector employees, international organizations, hospitals, the media and all other stakeholders to unite and invest in breastfeeding to pave the way for a more sustainable future.
Toward a Healthier Future
Breastfeeding is a natural preventive tool and protective barrier against many infectious and non-communicable diseases in both mothers and infants. It decreases the risk of diarrhea, respiratory diseases, middle ear infections, leukemia and asthma among children, and contributes to the strengthening of immune systems through antibodies in the breast milk. Breastfeeding was also seen to enhance the development of the brain and the level of intelligence during childhood.
Concerning the positive impact of breastfeeding on mothers, the risks of osteoporosis, type II diabetes, cancer (cervical cancer, breast cancer and uterine cancer) and depression following delivery are significantly reduced among nursing mothers.
Therefore, the nationwide implementation and support of breastfeeding can significantly contribute to the improvement of maternal health and child health, and thus reduce the burden of morbidities and mortalities occurring within these two population groups.
– Lea Sacca