Facts on Breastfeeding

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Facts on Breastfeeding

10 Facts on breastfeeding you should know!


1. Breastfeeding is what UNICEF and WHO recommend.

Both organizations recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. At six months, solid foods, such as mashed fruits and vegetables, should be introduced to complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more. In addition:

  • breastfeeding should begin within one hour of birth

  • breastfeeding should be “on demand”, as often as the child wants day and night; and

  • bottles or pacifiers should be avoided.

2. Breastmilk is the ideal food for newborns and infants.

Breastmilk includes all the nutrients infants need for healthy development. It is safe and contains antibodies that help protect infants from two common child-killing diseases – diarrhoea and pneumonia. Breastmilk is also readily available and affordable, which helps to ensure that infants get adequate nutrition. Read more about ‘Why Breastfeeding?’

3. Breastfeeding benefits mothers.

Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98 per cent protection in the first six months after birth). It reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, and helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, and lowers rates of obesity. Read more about ‘Why Breastfeeding?’

4. Breastfeeding has long-term benefits on infants and public health.

Beyond the immediate benefits for infants, breastfeeding contributes to a lifetime of good health. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-2 diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests. Read more about ‘Why Breastfeeding?’

5. Infant formula cannot substitute breastfeeding.

Infant formula does not contain the antibodies found in breastmilk. When infant formula is not properly prepared, there are risks arising from the use of unsafe water and unsterilized equipment or the potential presence of bacteria in powdered formula. Over-diluting formula to “stretch” supplies can result malnutrition. If formula is used, mothers gradually may not be able to breastfeed due to diminished breastmilk production. Read more about ‘Why Breastfeeding?’

6. We need to protect breastfeeding.

World Health Organization and UNICEF adopted an international code to regulate the marketing of breast-milk substitutes in 1981. It calls for:

  • all formula labels and information to state the benefits of breastfeeding and the health risks of substitutes;
  • no promotion of breastmilk substitutes;
  • no free samples of substitutes to be given to pregnant women, mothers or their families; and
  • no distribution of free or subsidized substitutes to health workers or facilities.

UNICEF HK held Baby Friendly Action in 2014 to urge the implementation of the Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products and Food Products for Infants and Young Children (the Hong Kong Code) drafted by Food and Health Bureau based on the International Code.

7. Mothers need support to initiate and sustain breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has to be learned and many women encounter difficulties at the beginning. UNICEF HK Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association has a baby friendly hotline and keep advocating for the attainment of service standards of a Baby Friendly Hospital in all health facilities with maternity services, to support and improve care for mothers and newborns.

8. Working mothers can sustain breastfeeding with support.

One main reason for mothers to stop breastfeeding is “returning to workplace”.

Many mothers who return to work abandon breastfeeding partially or completely because they do not have sufficient time, or a place to breastfeed, express and store their milk. Mothers need a safe, clean and private place in or near their workplace to continue breastfeeding. Enabling conditions at work, such as paid maternity leave, part-time work arrangements, on-site crèches, facilities for expressing and storing breast milk, and breastfeeding breaks, can help.

9. With support, mothers infected with HIV, living in developing countries or affected by disasters can also breastfeed.

An HIV-infected mother can pass the infection to her infant during pregnancy, delivery and through breastfeeding. Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs given to either the mother or HIV-exposed infant reduces the risk of transmission. Together, breastfeeding and ARVs have the potential to significantly improve infants’ chances of surviving while remaining HIV uninfected.

UNICEF strongly recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies, especially during an emergency. There are many myths around breastfeeding in emergencies, including that mothers’ milk dries up under stress, and that mothers should not breastfeed if their own nutrition is not optimal. The facts are that breastfeeding can help reduce stress for the mother and baby and with adequate emotional and practical support, including additional food where needed, all mothers can successfully breastfeed. Artificial feeding with breastmilk substitutes (BMS) in an emergency should be used only as a last resort, because the disruption of sources of safe water and unsanitary conditions carry high risks of malnutrition, illness and death.

10. The next step: phasing in solid foods

To meet the growing needs of babies at six months of age, mashed solid foods should be introduced as a complement to continued breastfeeding. Foods for the baby can be specially prepared or modified from family meals. Few important notes are:

  • breastfeeding should not be decreased when starting on solids;

  • food should be given with a spoon or cup, not in a bottle;

  • food should be clean, safe and locally available; and

  • ample time is needed for young children to learn to eat solid foods.

Breastfeeding in Hong Kong

Since 1992, UNICEF HK Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association has been observing breastfeeding trends in Hong Kong by conducting an annual survey in hospitals. Questionnaires are sent to all hospitals with maternity units in Hong Kong in May of each year. They include topics such as:

  • The breastfeeding rate on discharge from the hospital
  • Hospital practice of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding
  • Compliance of infant food manufacturers with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes as observed in the hospital

The data are then presented in an annual survey report which is released during the press conference in celebration of the World Breastfeeding Week in August every year. All information submitted by individual hospitals is treated with complete confidentiality.

Breastfeeding rate on discharge

Year 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
BF Rate (%) 19.0 28.5 31.4 32.4 37.8 41.1 48.2 50.0 51.3 56.8 60.2


Year 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
BF Rate(%) 61.1 61.8 64.2 64.2 69.0 73.9 76.7 79.2 83.3 85.8 84.2 86.3

 Why do mothers stop breastfeeding?

Infants’ age in months when no longer receiving any breastmilk
Total <1 1 to <3 3 to <6 6 to <9 9 to <12
(N=1103)a (n = 469) (n = 322) (n = 132) (n = 97) (n = 83)
Characteristic % % % % % %
Insufficient milk 34.5 36.7 31.1 37.1 35.1 30.1
Returning to Work+ 31.4 12.6 58.7 48.5 23.7 13.3
Baby is always hungry+ 14.1 21.5 11.8 4.6 4.1 7.2
Maternal illness+ 11.7 17.3 7.8 5.3 6.2 12.1
Sucking / latching problems+ 10.9 17.1 5.0 5.3 8.3 10.8
Fatigue / stress+ 10.3 15.1 7.1 7.6 5.2 6.0
Inconvenient / too time consuming 8.9 10.9 7.1 9.1 8.3 4.8
Nipple / breast pain+ 5.7 9.0 2.5 1.5 5.2 7.2
Infant illness+ 4.8 9.4 2.5 0.8 0.0 0.0
Right time to wean+ 3.5 0.2 0.0 6.1 19.6 13.3
Poor weight gain 1.9 3.0 1.6 0.0 1.0 1.2
+ p < 0.001
a 16 participants did not have a stated reason for weaning

Source: Tarrant et al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2010, 10:27