The baby food products said to provide nutrition are mostly artificial and therefore cannot contribute to children’s growth or their immune systems, experts say.
Children who are made to rely on such alternatives to breast milk have weak immune systems since these products are incapable of fulfilling their nutrition needs, they say.
These children in most cases are underweight and smaller in height. The scarcity of nutrition can also their weaken brain development.
Forty-one percent of these children are undersized because they are not properly breastfed, said Dr Raisul Haque, programme coordinator of BRAC Health Nutrition and Population Programme (HNPP).
Mother’s milk is recognised throughout the world as the primary source of nutrition for children since birth and until they are six months of age – a process known as Exclusive Breast Feeding or EBF.
Two types of baby food alternatives are available in the market.
Powdered milk manufactured with ‘special formulae’ for infants and toddlers form one category. The other is powdered ‘Formula Food’ designed for babies more than six months old.
Ratna Gomez, who works with the mother and child’s health as field manager at Training and Assistance for Health and Nutrition (TAHN), a private organisation, shared her experience with bdnews24.com.
“The children who are given powdered milk or other substitutes available in the market may look healthier but they break down completely when they catch even small illnesses.
“We have clearly observed these fluctuations in their charts for weight and other records.”
TAHN, along with BRAC and Shimantik, has projects dedicated to advising and training mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding.
Newborns have tiny stomachs and breast milk is enough to provide sustenance and meet hunger, said Dr Haque.
“Babies who are fed other things get used to having food easily and no longer want to laboriously suck milk from their mothers. It’s not EBF if a baby is given other food before s/he is six months old.”
It takes about 24 to 72 hours for a woman to begin lactating after she gives birth, the time during which, her relatives become restless to feed the child with something, he said.
But what the newborn absolutely needs is to have the ‘first milk’ or ‘colostrum’ the mother produces.
“Babies who are fed canned powdered milk or food with artificial nutrition instead of regular food after they are six-months old will have deficiencies,” he added.
“They are also deprived of the elements in breast milk that strengthen their immune systems.”
Ensuring breast milk for newborns is a worldwide concern and there are milk banks in the US where mothers donate breast milk for babies in need.
The World Health Organisation formed a policy in Geneva in 1981 to control the marketing of the alternatives – known as ‘International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes’.
The Breast-Milk Substitutes (Regulation of Marketing) Ordinance was brought on in 1984 and amended on Oct 22, 2013.
The government then said a full policy to address the matter under the law would soon follow but it has not been done yet.
General shops and superstores that sell these products are not aware of the law, bdnews24.com has found.
Parents too, in most cases, were not fully aware of the benefits of breastfeeding.
They are relying on packaged baby food and the tendency is more apparent among effluent parents than the ones who have lesser incomes.