Increase breastfeeding rates to fight diabetes

Housewife Chin Wee Kean (front row, right), with her daughter Tabitha Ingram, was among more than 15 mothers who gathered at Orchard Road for “Latch on for Love” to breastfeed their babies and toddlers in a flashmob exercise to promote breastfeed
Housewife Chin Wee Kean (front row, right), with her daughter Tabitha Ingram, was among more than 15 mothers who gathered at Orchard Road for “Latch on for Love” to breastfeed their babies and toddlers in a flashmob exercise to promote breastfeeding in public. PHOTO: ST FILE

I applaud the intentions of the Health Ministry in tackling diabetes ("MOH to wage war on diabetes"; Thursday).

As a physician, I manage newly diagnosed diabetes patients on a regular basis. In many cases, a sedentary lifestyle, coupled with some percentage of genetics, is a factor.

However, a recent study in medical journal The Lancet found that the vicious circle can be broken by increasing breastfeeding rates.

Singapore has dismal breastfeeding rates as compared with some developing countries in our region. Only 1 per cent of mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies. This is despite World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations that babies be breastfed exclusively for six months, and thereafter, with complementary food for two years and beyond.

One possible reason for this low rate is our laxity in the regulation of the marketing of breast-milk supplements (formula milk).

Singapore is a member state of the WHO's International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes. The code states that breastfeeding substitutes "should not be marketed or distributed in ways that may interfere with the protection and promotion of breastfeeding".

Singapore now has three Unicef-certified Baby-Friendly Hospitals - National University Hospital, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, and Singapore General Hospital.

These hospitals are certified by the United Nations Children's Fund as being able to educate mothers on breastfeeding tips before birth and support them adequately after the baby is born.

However, we still have a large proportion of mothers who choose to deliver their babies in private maternity hospitals where breastfeeding is not given much attention.

There are medical professionals (both nurses and doctors) who are unable to provide much support to mothers who want to breastfeed their infants. The hospitals do not have a policy on breastfeeding which could drive a concerted effort to increase breastfeeding rates.

Singapore should tighten its rules on the sale of breast-milk substitutes and focus on the promotion of breastfeeding in all avenues, for the betterment of our future, which includes a decrease in chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity and an increase in neurological development.

Mythili Pandi (Dr)
President
Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2016, with the headline 'Increase breastfeeding rates to fight diabetes'. Print Edition | Subscribe