Forum: Feeding baby: Support parents in making informed choices

I was greatly encouraged by Dr Mythili Pandi who said she helps mothers along their breastfeeding journey, whichever path that may take (Champions of breastfeeding: She teaches new mums to latch their babies, Aug 1).

This is a big contrast to some maternity hospitals which push for exclusive breastfeeding regardless of the preferences of parents.

The main reason for this stems from the fact that to be certified as "baby-friendly", the hospital must fulfil all the criteria set by the World Health Organisation in its "Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding".

One of the key steps is for newborn babies to be fed exclusively with breast milk, unless medically indicated. This simply means that parents are not allowed to feed their babies formula milk in hospital unless approved by the medical staff.

But a potentially dangerous situation may arise if parents exclusively breastfeed without being educated on the possibility of delayed or insufficient milk, or on how to recognise signs of insufficient milk intake in babies. The resultant complications in babies are tragedies that could be prevented.

By insisting on exclusive breastfeeding, hospitals miss opportunities to engage families on topics regarding formula milk, such as the use of formula to supplement breastfeeding, safe preparation of formula, and how to prevent nipple confusion when bottles are used.

Data from the Singapore National Breastfeeding Survey in 2011 showed a sharp drop in the rate of exclusive breastfeeding six months after giving birth, indicating that many families are using formula milk. They would benefit greatly from open discussions on this.

The choice of what to feed one's baby is generally not a medical issue and should not be an imposition by hospital policies.

Ideally, hospitals should provide adequate resources for parents to make informed decisions. While their stance would be to encourage breastfeeding, they should let parents decide what's best for their baby and support them in their choices.

Leaving no room for discussion or tailoring of choices to individual families is, paradoxically, not baby-friendly.

Khaw May Choo

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