Formula milk concerns

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Senators recently went on a rampage on formula milk, but quickly went off-track and started attacking the use of such products rather than legitimate concerns over quality and dubious marketing practices. While it is important to encourage breastfeeding, the speeches in the Senate appeared more akin to fearmongering, and at worst, insulting women who are unable to breastfeed due to health issues. About 10% of new mothers in the US and Canada are unable to breastfeed at all for various health reasons, including malnutrition. Many more were able to produce milk, but not enough to meet their children’s nutritional needs. Given the significantly higher malnutrition rates in Pakistan compared to North America, it is fair to assume that the number of women unable to breastfeed would also be higher.

Apart from postpartum depression and other difficulties that many women go through after childbirth, these new mothers also have to deal with social pressure and lack of understanding from their families, and the occasional unwarranted insult on the floor of the Senate. Instead of focusing on discouraging formula milk use or making sweeping statements about its quality, parliamentarians should legislate to ensure local and imported formula milk exceeds international quality standards. At the same time, they should use positive measures to encourage breastfeeding, including through awareness campaigns and requirements on formula milk brands to do the same — in the US, all of the top formula milk brands actively encourage breastfeeding and market themselves as supplements, rather than replacements. 

Doing the same here would not be difficult. It just requires political will. During the debate earlier this week, one senator promised to table relevant legislation soon, never mind that as a member of the upper house for over two years, she has had many opportunities to do so, and as a practising doctor, it is unlikely she did not previously know about the problem. Proffering soundbites is easy; writing, presenting, and passing bills is hard, which, unfortunately, is why so many well-intentioned proposals don’t go anywhere.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2023.

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