Reduced breastfeeding in China worries WHO

2:03 min

WHO's goal for 2025 that more than half of all infants on earth shall be exclusively breastfeed until they are 6 months, will not be achieved with today's rate.   Support for breastfeeding diminish internationally, despite research showing that breast milk provides better health for children even in rich countries. One of several countries where less women breastfeed exclusively is China.

– The other five mothers in the maternity ward had caesareans and all got counseled by the midwives to give a bottle of formula when their babies began screaming, so that they would not starve, says 35-year-old Yau Yumeng in Beijing.

This is against the international conventions China signed 25 years ago. Still there is the baby food industry in China handing out free samples of formula at the hospitals.

Parental leave is only 3.5 months and to breastfeed in public is unimaginable for most people. Yau Yumeng read online about all the health benefits of breastfeeding, but had to defend her decision not to give formula to friends who thought that foreign milk powder in a bottle is better as baby food.

Few Chinese however dare to rely on the domestic brands after the poisoning scandal (melamine) in 2008, when six children died and more than 50,000 were taken to hospital.

In China exclusive breastfeeding of babies up to six months has dropped to 27 percent, and in the big cities down to 17 percent, which worries Dr. Bernhard Schwartländer, head of World Health Organisation's Beijing office.

According to a report in the medical journal The Lancet recently about research from numerous meta studies, breast milk protects against diarrhea, pneumonia and sudden infant death syndrome etc.

Exclusively breastfed children also get a higher IQ, even when taking into account the mother's IQ and education according to the report. Probably breast milk also protects the children later in life against obesity and diabetes and breastfeeding women get breast cancer less frequently.

Another 800,000 children's lives in the world would be saved every year if all countries, even the rich, followed WHO's advice on breastfeeding, argue the researchers.

Reference: Victora CG et al Breastfeeding in the 21st Century: epidemiology, mechanisms and lifelong effect, Lancet 2016; 387: 475-90 DOI: