Friday, November 21, 2008

A gift that helps to save lives and reduce suffering

If you are looking for an unusual and useful gift for someone for Christmas - or any other time - how about membership of Baby Milk Action?


Here's what Baby Milk Action is about:

Baby Milk Action

Baby Milk Action is a non-profit organisation which aims to save infant lives and to end the avoidable suffering caused by inappropriate infant feeding. We work as part of the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) to strengthen independent, transparent and effective controls on the marketing of the baby feeding industry. IBFAN has over 200 member organisations in more than 100 countries.

Protecting breastfeeding

There is no food more locally produced or sustainable than breastmilk. A breastfed child is less likely to suffer from gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections, diabetes, allergies and other illnesses. In areas with unsafe water a bottle-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea. Reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save 1.5 million lives around the world every year. Breastfeeding helps fulfill the UN Millennium Development Goals and has the potential to reduce under-5 mortality by 13%. A further 6% of deaths could be saved through appropriate complementary feeding. Breastfeeding also provides health benefits to the mother, such as reduced risk of some cancers.

Protecting babies fed on formula

Breastmilk substitutes are legitimate product for when a child is not breastfed and does not have access to expressed or donor breastmilk. Companies should comply with composition and labelling requirements and other Code requirements to reduce risks - independently of government measures. Parents have a right to accurate, independent information.

Baby Feeding Law Group

Baby Milk Action is the Secretariat for the Baby Feeding Law Group (BFLG) which is working to bring UK legislation into line with UN Resolutions. BFLG members include consumer and mother-support groups and professional bodies such as the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors’ Association, the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and UNICEF's Baby Friendly Initiative. We are also on the Steering Group of the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition (BMC) which has 7 Objectives to support and protect breastfeeding. Ojective 7 is to implement the Code and Resolutions.

International Code

We work for controls implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (The International Code). This Code was adopted in 1981 by the World Health Assembly (WHA), the world’s highest policy setting body. The International Code bans all promotion of breastmilk substitutes and was adopted as a ‘minimum requirement’ to be implemented by member states ‘in its entirety’. The International Code and the subsequent relevant WHA Resolutions, which have clarified or extended certain provisions of the Code, must be considered together in the interpretation and translation into national measures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Become a member and receive our newsletter

Baby Milk Action members will shortly be receiving copies of our latest newsletter.

If you are not yet a member, you can join today through our on-line Virtual Shop. If you opt to pay by standing order, you can even gain a free gift (see conditions). Go to:

The newsletter is made available on line for the general public after being sent to members - and members can elect to receive it electronically to save on postage and printing costs and the Earth's resources.

Non-members can also sign up for alerts, but do please consider becoming a member, because the fees (which start from just £ 7.00 per year) are essential for funding our work. Sign up for alerts at:

Friday, November 07, 2008

Baby-led Weaning

I've had the good fortune to hear Gill Rapley speak on her work on baby-led weaning a couple of times. In the talks she passes films of babies who were given the chance to decide when and what they would eat from 4 months of age. The recommended age for introducing complementary foods - foods in addition to breastmilk (or formula) - is 6 months of age. And, left to their own devices, that is the age when babies seem themselves to choose to eat. Now Gill has co-authored a book on her studies, available at:

Prior to 6 months they put food - and just about anything they can get their hands on to - into their mouths, but they don't swallow. They explore colours, shapes, textures and tastes, but don't actually eat until 6 months or thereabouts. The poop proves it.
The World Health Organization has studied the subject extensively and the World Health Assembly adopted a Resolution in 1994 giving a public health recommendation of promoting complementary feeding with local foods from about 6 months of age. Under most conditions, their research suggested there is no nutritional need for foods in addition to breastmilk (or formula) prior to 6 months and introduction of foods other than breastmilk before this age makes them more likely to develop infections.

From my experience, companies try to promote the introduction of foods at an earlier age because, in the words of an executive from one company, it stops parents 'drifting into home-prepared foods'. They make special concoctions to be fed by spoon and some parents are drawn into seeing it as a positive sign of development if their child takes to 'solids' at a younger age than its peers.
The industry fought long and hard against the recommendation from the World Health Assembly introduced in 1994. It took further action by the Assembly and a lot of denunciations of breaking of the Resolutions and pressure from the Nestle boycott before Nestle, the largest of the baby food company, agreed, in 2003 (9 years later) that it would stop promoting complementary foods from before 6 months - a promise it has not entirely kept and recent indications are it is backsliding on it. Get babies onto processed foods and the chances are they will then 'progress' through the entire range.
Most countries, including the UK, have adopted policies of not promoting complementary feeding before 6 months of age, though that does not preclude different medical advice if necessary.

With baby-led weaning, babies can share in the family meals (with attention given to salt levels, of course). They develop a discerning palate. And while they may be behind the babies eating processed pap off a spoon, at 8, 9 months they are feeding themselves with a spoon and enjoying what they eat.

At least that is what you see in the films in Gill's presentation and there is plenty of supporting testimony on various discussion groups and boards.

This new book gives plenty of information on the theory and practice of baby-led weaning. It is well worth investigating. Available at:

Monday, November 03, 2008

Latest victory gets us nowhere

This is a recurring story. Brazil has one of the most effective systems regulating baby food marketing and breastfeeding rates have increased markedly over the past 20 years - median duration has gone from less than three months to ten months. Rates had declined drastically after Nestle entered Brazil a century ago. Now the main concerns are targeting of health workers and the promotion of whole milks, which are used by a high proportion of poor mothers who don't breastfeed instead of infant formula. We have exposed how Nestlé promotes its Nido whole milk in the infant feeding sections of pharmacies and supermarkets, a practice it refuses to stop, arguing it is not against the regulations. See:

Whole milks do require a warning that they should not be used for infant feeding. Repeatedly this has been challenged in the Congress and Senate by representatives allied to the dairy industry. It is pretty disgraceful that the desire for profits is so great that the industry is prepared to pursue sales through misuse of the product. The text has already been weakened slightly, with the heading "Ministry of Health Warning" changed to "Ministry of Health Information" - you may have supported our campaign last year which persuaded the Senate to reverse this change, only for the Congress to reinstate it. See:

Over the past few months the issue has come up again, with a move to weaken the text further still, if not remove it altogether. Our partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) Brazil asked for letters of support that could be used by representatives in the Congress to oppose the dairy industry's politicians. IBFAN groups from around the world sent letters. I wrote on behalf of Baby Milk Action. You can find the letters here:

The good news is that on 29 October the move to weaken the text further was defeated!

Now this shows the need to be eternally vigilant because the industry does not give up. It also shows that campaigning works.

But it also illustrates the difficulty that we and our partners face in protecting infant health.

An international mobilization was necessary to protect mothers and babies. Without this effort, the industry would have won, inappropriate use of whole milk would likely have become even more common and infants would have become sick and some died due to the greed of the milk companies. But we won, meaning the situation is unchanged - the warnings remain as an important step in stopping inappropriate use of whole milk.

Now when we try to fundraise for our work we have a problem because most funders are not focused on tackling root causes of problems. It is hard to raise money for enforcing the baby food marketing requirements, because money is directed at treating babies once they are sick or at interventions that deal with mothers and babies directly.

It is harder still to raise money for the action we have to take to stop the industry weakening the measures already won. Funders like targets and to see them met. In this particular case, there is no progress. We have simply stopped something bad from happening.

It is a tribute to everyone involved in the campaign that we are not only able to stop the extremely-well-resourced industry from weakening measures, but on many fronts are achieving new, stronger regulations and having them enforced. The support from members of the public, both financially and in sending letters, is vital for this.

Donations can be made at: