Saturday, September 19, 2009

Breastfeeding: USA vs Vietnam

As a lay person, I know that breastfeeding is important. As a health educator, I understand that it is something to be encouraged. Before seeing a story about the state of breastfeeding in Vietnam this morning, I knew that breast milk was so health promoting that even smoking mothers were encouraged to do it. The benefits of breast milk outweigh the effect of nicotine or the other chemicals in cigarette smoke.

I did not know that our Healthy People 2010 had established goals for exclusively breastfeeding infants up to three months (60%) and six months (25%). These numbers are similar to global targets put forth by the World Health Organization.

To learn more about Healthy People goals, objectives and progress see link below

We have made a lot of progress in the percent of mothers who EVER breast feed, but not so much with the exclusive or continuous breastfeeding. Breast feeding is encouraged for at least the first year and on through the second year if possible.

The article about Vietnam was eye opening on several levels. The first is that the country’s rate of continuous, exclusive breastfeeding up to six months is only 17%. A real problem in the country is the aggressive marketing of infant formula. Interestingly, the formula makers, even ones from the USA are treating doctors, hospitals, health care workers and clinics in much the same as our drug reps treat them here. They encourage them to promote the formula, through lunches, office furniture and even commissions. It is illegal to do so, but the fines for breach are very low. The economy there is worse than ours and the doctors are paid very little.

The benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to the child. Breastfeeding improves the mother’s health and also is economically beneficial. According to the CDC and other sources, like WHO and UNICEF, the benefits include:

Less risk for ear infections and skin conditions, like eczema, less gastric upset and diabetes, decreased risk of sudden infant death, obesity and chest or lung infections – there is much less risk of chronic disease and diarrhea also - all lowers infant mortality rates

For the mom who breast feeds, there is less risk of diabetes, ovarian and breast cancer

I guess what strikes me the most from exploring this more today is the numbers. Ever breastfeeding numbers have increased throughout the world and this is a fantastic thing. They are high in the US and high in Vietnam - over 75%. The goal for all countries however, is to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. The goal of the US is again, 25% and of Vietnam, 50%. And my most interesting find is that the US rate is at 11% for the continues exclusive up to six months and Vietnam’s rate, the rate that was so alarming as to warrant the investigation on the infant formula companies, is 17%. I guess we need to do a little better oursevles USA.


Jess said...

I could go on for hours about this. Again, as you say, what is needed is education, and I'll add a change in attitude. I can't tell you all the commentary I received from family and some friends at the thought that I was BFing after the first year of Eva's life. It got bad enough that as she approached her 2nd birthday, I hid the fact that she still nursed to sleep from those who inquired. (I didn't lie, I just got better at skirting the subject, and let them believe they had won). It was so frustrating to have to argue the benefits of physical and emotional wellness to intelligent family members, and I know I am far from the only person who received this kind of pressure. Thank goodness I had the support of my husband or I never would have made it.
Even with a lack of education on the benefits, I'm surprised the numbers for 6 months of BFing are so low in the US - 5 to 6 months is right around the time Dr.s advise starting bananas and rice cereal. Is that month of overlap dropping the numbers for those who BF all day but throw in an 1/8th of a banana?

Jen said...

Dee, Thanks for posting. Coming up on Dylan's 1st birthday, I'm still date, not ONE ear infection and only one minor bout with the sniffles. While most of my girlfriends my age are on board w/ BFing, its strange to see how so many women in our mother's generation just don't get it (my mom excluded...she's Super supportive of BFing). It is not the easiest thing to do, but extended BFing is the one of the best things a mother can do for their child...not just for the moment, but for a lifetime!