World Breastfeeding Week 2022 calls for community support for breastfeeding (with photo)
In support of World Breastfeeding Week 2022 early next month, the Department of Health (DH) today (July 29) called for the community’s full support for breastfeeding. The Government will continue its efforts in promoting and protecting breastfeeding.
World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually in the first week of August. The theme for this year is “Step Up for Breastfeeding: Educate and Support”. The DH, in collaboration with the Hospital Authority, the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association and the Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF, today held an online celebration event for World Breastfeeding Week 2022, during which participants shared their efforts and initiatives in promoting and supporting breastfeeding.
Breastmilk is the most natural source of food for babies, which provides babies with all the nutrients they need in the first six months after birth, and the proteins in breastmilk are easily digested and absorbed. Breastmilk contains various antibodies and immunoglobulins, which help to enhance the immunity of babies, and reduce their chance of having allergic conditions and infections. Also, there is research showing that babies fed on breastmilk are less prone to obesity and diabetes after growing up.
Speaking at the event, the Director of Health, Dr Ronald Lam, said that the Government has all along been promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. A multi-sectoral Committee on Promotion of Breastfeeding was established to promote breastfeeding through multi-pronged strategies and collaboration.
At the legislation level, statutory maternity leave has been extended to 14 weeks and the Sex Discrimination Ordinance has been amended to prohibit discrimination against and harassment towards breastfeeding women. In addition, the Government has been actively promoting Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace and Breastfeeding Friendly Premises, to support breastfeeding at workplaces and in the community.
To protect breastfeeding, the Government launched in 2017 the Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants & Young Children, providing guidance to relevant sectors.
Dr Lam remarked that professional support from healthcare institutions helps enhance parents’ awareness towards the benefits of breastfeeding. The DH launched in 2016 a pilot scheme under which three Maternal and Child Health Centres (MCHCs) passed the accreditation and were acknowledged as Baby-Friendly MCHCs in 2019. The accreditation process for another five MCHCs also commenced last year, whereas eight more MCHCs will embark on the relevant accreditation process by the end of this year. The aim was to attain the accreditation across all MCHCs in the coming five years.
Dr Lam pointed out that under the active promotion and collaboration of the Government and various sectors, the local breastfeeding rate has been on a steady rise over the past 20 years. The breastfeeding rate on hospital discharge has increased from 55 per cent in 2000 to 87 per cent in 2021. The rate of exclusive breastfeeding rate till six months of age also increased from 8 per cent in 2000 to 22 per cent in 2020.
However, Dr Lam also pointed out that the rate of exclusive breastfeeding rate till six months of age in 2020 had dropped by about four percentage points over that in 2018. It may be due to the social distancing measures during the COVID-19 epidemic and the pressure on the healthcare system affecting the support provided to breastfeeding mothers. As such, all sectors of the community will need to put more efforts into supporting and promoting breastfeeding. He reminded that pregnant and lactating women should complete three doses of COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible for protection of their own and their babies’ health.
Dr Lam added that both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Hong Kong College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggested that pregnant and lactating women should receive COVID-19 vaccination to protect themselves and their babies as the antibodies generated after vaccination can be passed to the foetus through the placenta, and women can also provide protection to the babies during breastfeeding. Moreover, the WHO and the UNICEF also suggested that mothers who are suspected of or confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 should continue with breastfeeding when appropriate infection control measures are in place.
The Government will maintain multi-sectoral collaboration and partnership to further promote, protect and support breastfeeding. Members of the public can visit the designated webpage (www.fhs.gov.hk/wbw2022/index.html) for more information on World Breastfeeding Week 2022.