SINGAPORE - Parents may soon find it cheaper to feed their newborn babies with a move by three public hospitals here to switch to cheaper milk powder.
Those who feed their babies with infant formula could find their costs halved, when the hospitals offer cheaper ready-to-feed (RTF) brands to infants in hospital from July 1.
As most parents prefer to stick to the formula their infants had been fed while in hospital, this makes it easier for them to continue with the cheaper brands after their babies leave the hospital.
The two brands to be offered by the hospitals are Nestle's Lactogen and Danone's Dulac. The companies clinched a tender against 10 others, to supply the hospitals with RTF formula for a year from July 1, 2018, till end June 2019.
The hospitals that will bulk buy these brands are Singapore General Hospital (SGH), National University Hospital (NUH) and KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).
The retail cost for Lactogen and Dulac is $2.20 and $2.50 per 100g, much cheaper than the six brands now used at SGH, which cost between $5 and $7.50 per 100g.
The hospitals' move was announced on Friday (Dec 29) by Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor. It comes after a furore earlier this year over the high cost of infant formula, with prices of most brands more than doubling over the past decade.
Under the tender agreement, the retail price of the two brands would not be raised during the year specified in the tender.
Speaking on the sidelines of a tour of SGH's maternity and labour wards, Dr Khor said there will be significant savings for parents who need to turn to infant formula.
She said all infant formula sold here provide the necessary nutrition for babies. The two that won the tender are not necessarily the cheapest, she said, as one criteria is their ability to provide RTF formula for hospital use.
Even with cheaper formula, Dr Khor stressed that breast feeding remains the best option for both mother and baby.
The number of mothers who had exclusively breast fed at the time of discharge from the three public hospitals has risen from 76 per cent in 2013 to 86 per cent today, she noted.
This was largely due to greater awareness of the benefits of breast feeding, she added.
Associate Professor Daisy Chan, a neonatologist at SGH, said breast feeding lowers the mother's risk of getting breast and ovarian cancers and helps her regain her previous weight faster.
For babies, it is the "optimal nutrition, reduces their risk of getting infections, helps them bond with their mother and is free", she said.
Prof Chan said studies also show that babies who are breast fed have slightly higher intelligence.
But she noted that some infants do require formula, either because their mothers are not able to breast feed or are not producing enough for the baby.
SGH currently uses six different RTF brands which they offer on rotation to babies who need them. It charges parents a standard $1 per feed.
Ms Nabilla Hashim, 29, whose first child, a baby girl, was born on Dec 27 at SGH, intends to breast feed her daughter for the first two years.
But the bank receptionist said she may need to supplement it with formula in future, though she would try her best not to.
Civil servant Teo Ee Hong, 39, who was at SGH with his wife Chin Siew Mei, 34, who is expecting their fourth child, said his children took different brands of formula, depending on what they had been given in hospital, till age three or four.
He said he was not too bothered by the price he had to pay.