Africa: Marketers Rolling Back Gains in Baby Breastfeeding

Protesting moms made a point of breastfeeding their babies outside Kenya's parliamentary precincts (file photo).

Infant food manufacturers are to blame for low breastfeeding rates, says a Save the Children report.

According to the report titled "Don't push it," manufacturers are increasingly pushing baby formula products using Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels, which are harder to monitor and regulate than traditional marketing channels.

The report says parents are bombarded with advertisements and social media promotions on baby food as a substitute for breast milk and even doctors report receiving gifts and incentives to promote infant formula contrary to WHO advice.

Marketers are driving unprecedented growth in sales of infant formula across the world and as a result, millions of families -- many from low-income settings feed their babies on formulas they don't need and cannot often afford, endangering countless children's lives.

"Sales are booming and more babies and small children are being fed infant formula than ever before. A global market worth less than $14 billion in 1998 reached sales of $41 billion in 2014 and is set to reach $65 billion by 2019."

Experts say the need for infants to be formula fed arise in certain circumstances, but the baby food manufacturers are running misleading campaigns establishing a supposed equivalence between breast milk and milk formula, leading some mothers to abandon breastfeeding altogether.

It is estimated that 7.6 million babies globally are not exclusively breastfed.

"Breast milk offers all the antibodies a baby needs; some 823,000 child deaths could be prevented each year by near universal breastfeeding, yet marketing companies' outlays dwarf public health budgets to promote breastfeeding," states Save the Children.

Rwanda has the highest number of mothers in East Africa who exclusively breastfeed their children in the first six months of their lives, at 85 per cent compared with Uganda's 60 per cent, Tanzania's 50 per cent and Kenya's 32 per cent.

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