Breastfeeding seminars

Cautious optimism over China’s plan to promote breastfeeding

China predicts that more than half of the country’s infants in their first six months will be exclusively breastfed by 2025 and introduces a series of measures, including protecting the rights of new mothers in the workplace, to achieve this. objective.

Employers are prohibited from extending the working hours of breastfeeding women or assigning them night shifts so that they can properly care for their children, according to a joint action plan of high-level government institutions published Tuesday. Workplaces are also prohibited from cutting wages and social benefits or firing employees who are breastfeeding, while granting a 60-minute breastfeeding break to mothers of children under 1 year old.

Exclusive breastfeeding – defined as the practice of giving an infant only breastmilk without food or water – has been widely attested have beneficial effects on the health of infants and mothers due to the nutrients, antibodies and active enzymes that breast milk contains. However, China’s efforts to promote breastfeeding of infants, especially those in the first six months of life, During the last decade failed to satisfy their target achieve an exclusive breastfeeding rate of 50% by 2020.

A 33-year-old woman named Mo, who works in the medical industry and has been breastfeeding her newborn baby for 10 months, told Sixth Tone that her workplace in the southwestern city of Chengdu is not has no breastfeeding room and uses the spare conference room to pump milk instead.

She added that the one-hour nursing break is also difficult to guarantee. Meetings scheduled late in the day often mean she has to work overtime or stay behind to communicate with her colleagues.

“The most fundamental thing for me is to ensure (breastfeeding) time and space…I am not optimistic, however, about the implementation (of the action plan), which involves the interests of employers,” said Mo. “Another question is who will supervise employers, and how? »

A Survey 2019 by the state-backed China Development Research Foundation showed that about 29% of Chinese infants aged 6 months or younger were exclusively breastfed, which is lower than the world average by 44%. Meanwhile, around 67% of new mothers had a daily 60-minute breastfeeding break at work, although only 19% of respondents had workplaces with a breastfeeding room.

Experts have blame the active marketing of infant formula to largely undermine efforts to improve breastfeeding. According to the 2019 survey, mothers are more likely to use breastmilk substitutes as they are exposed to greater promotion by manufacturers and sellers of these products.

China’s booming infant formula market raised sales worth 176 billion yuan ($27.5 billion) in 2020, up 4.4% year on year, according to an industry report. In the first half of 2020, only about a quarter of consumers surveyed did not purchase infant formula, with nearly 32% spending between 501 yuan and 1,000 yuan per month on infant formula, according to to national market research firm iiMedia.

Although the target proposed in Tuesday’s action plan is consistent with the global nutrition goal announced by the World Health Organization in 2012, many women worried about the burden it could place on nursing mothers. New mothers or women in general often prioritize work, as hostile hiring policies often disqualify female candidates to save companies the costs of pregnancy and childbirth, amplifying sexist hiring practices and gender discrimination in the workplace.

The new plan also pledged to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding. Authorities are encouraging more nursing rooms in businesses and public places – Guangzhou became the first city to include this in 2019 legislation – and are banning advertisements for products claiming to be breastmilk substitutes.

Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: People Visual)