Representatives of several local women’s rights groups accused the Department of Health yesterday of blocking information on breast milk substitutes in its attempt to promote breastfeeding, and urged it to respect mothers’ choices in how to feed their babies.
On the eve of Mother’s Day, Taiwan Women’s Link secretary-general Tsai Wan-fen (蔡宛芬) acknowledged that promoting breastfeeding remained the main focus of the WHO’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, but said the initiative had not ruled out the provision of information on breast milk substitutes to mothers.
If mothers choose not to breastfeed, the initiative requires that health workers discuss with them proper feeding substitutes, including providing them with information on the proper use of infant formula, Tsai said.
However, Taiwan’s baby-friendly hospital guidelines require a 100 percent breastfeeding rate and prohibit hospitals from providing feeding information on alternatives, she said.
“This is inconsistent with the WHO’s spirit of respecting the choices of mothers,” Tsai said, adding that the department’s policy had caused stress and frustration among many postnatal women.
Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英), a women’s rights activist and Democratic Progressive Party legislator, said the department’s biased policy resulted in infant formula being subjected to the same levels of control as those imposed on medicines, while advertisements for infant formulas can only appear in medical magazines, to which very few women have access.
Sharing her personal experience, Taipei Association for the Promotion of Women’s Rights chairwoman Wu Yi-chen (吳宜臻) said she had produced insufficient breast milk after giving birth by cesarean and asked the hospital to provide her baby with infant formula as a supplement.
But health workers told her that her baby might have difficulty reverting back to breast milk after being fed with formula, which discouraged her from trying, Wu said.
“This made me physically and mentally exhausted. Worries over low breast milk production very often drove me to tears,” she said.
Wu said the lack of available information to help women choose a feeding method that suits them leads to a sense of guilt in those with insufficient breast milk production, a situation that could trigger postnatal depression.