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    Riches of mother's milk

    January 24, 2020

    Sri Lanka has become the number one nation in the world in supporting women who breastfeed and in enhancing breastfeeding practices in the country and was awarded the first-ever ‘Green Nation Status’ by the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) recently, Health Services Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe said.According to Dr. Jasinghe, the WBTi congratulates Sri Lanka for achieving this status scoring in 91 out of 100 parameters on policy and programmes which support women who breastfeed.The WBTi is a worldwide initiative which consists of 120 countries and it does colour coding and ranking of countries under 10 programmes.

    Dr. Jasinghe pointed out that the colour codes, namely red, yellow, blue and green are given in ascending order depending on performance. The WBTi also assists countries to assess and analyse gaps and then calls for action to bridge the gaps. Inadequate breastfeeding costs the global economy almost US$ 1 billion each day; this loss is due to lost productivity and healthcare costs. Breastfeeding benefits child health, women’s health and also prevents contraction of non-communicable diseases in adult life.


    “This target can only be achieved through the galvanisation of national action to protect and support every pregnant and lactating woman. Globally, only 41 percent of infants below six months are exclusively breastfed, whereas in Sri Lanka, it has already reached 82 percent. The World Health Assembly has set a target to reach 50 percent globally by 2025, and every country should contribute to it. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), every breastfeeding woman and her baby require an enabling environment to begin breastfeeding within an hour of birth, breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months and continuing breastfeeding along with adequate food till the child is two years or more,” he added.


    Consultant Neonatologist at De Soysa Hospital for Women who is attached to the Child Nutrition Unit of the Family Health Bureau of the Health Ministry, Dr. Nishani Lucas spoke about the advantages of breastfeeding and the dreadful effects of milk powder (infant formula).

    According to Dr. Lucas, the best milk for any infant or child is his or her mother’s milk (breast milk). There are numerous values in breast milk. It is full of nutrients and easily digestible, absorbed and prevents constipation. Breast milk protects the baby from infections such as diarrhea; respiratory tract infections; ear infections; urinary tract infections; meningitis; allergies including asthma and eczema; cancers such as leukaemia; dental malocclusion; obesity; diabetes; hypercholesterolaemia; hypertension; and coronary artery diseases as well as immune-mediated diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis that occur in adulthood.

    The breast milk ensures the baby’s optimum brain growth with seven – ten points increase in IQ scores. It also helps in psycho-social development through the attachment or the bond build up between the mother and the baby. Breastfeeding safeguards the health status of the mother by reducing the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer, and anemia, while reducing her insulin requirement leading to better control of diabetes. Breastfeeding helps the mother to regain her body shape without dieting or extra exercise as it mobilises the fat deposits accumulated during pregnancy.


    Artificial feeding (powdered milk or infant formula) reduces the IQ by seven – 10 points, and increases the risk of infections such as diarrhoea by 64 percent, respiratory diseases by 72 percent and ear infections by 50 percent.

    It also increases the risk of allergies such as asthma and eczema, and diseases such as leukaemia, along with the development of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia, coronary heart diseases, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease when the baby reaches adulthood.

    “Formula milk is not a sterile product and harmful pathogens have been identified in sealed containers. Enterobacter sakazakii found in formula milk causes meningitis followed by neonatal death. It was also found to have several toxins such as melamine in the recent past which caused several infant deaths as well as renal failure in China in 2008, and cupric sulphate which is a chemical found in pesticides such as dicyandiamide (DCD) in 2013 in our own country,” she said.

    She also mentioned that the harm caused by formula milk is comparable or worse than the impact of smoking. Formula milk should not be an option for a baby whose mother is alive and breastfeeding does not lead to the death of a mother who suffers from severe heart diseases such as pulmonary hypertension or cardiomyopathy.

    Poor techniques lead to reduced milk production. A mother should ensure that the hospital in which she delivers the baby checks the breastfeeding technique and the baby’s weight and that the weight loss is not more than five percent of the birth weight on discharge. If it is more than five percent, she needs extra help with the breastfeeding technique though nothing is wrong with her body; it is just that she has not been given proper support for breastfeeding. Lactation Management Centres in many state hospitals support a mother in this regard irrespective of where she gave birth to her child. These are walk-in day centres where all mothers seeking help to breastfeed are welcomed and supported to exclusively breastfeed their babies.


    A joint awareness programme launched by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) and the Health Ministry to educate people on the health dangers of consuming imported milk powder was held recently.

    The event took place at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL) last Monday (20) at 9.00 am with the participation of Health Ministry Secretary Bhadrani Jayawardena, Health Services Director General Dr. Anil Jasinghe, GMOA President Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge, GMOA Assistant Secretary Dr. Navin De Zoysa, GMOA Media Spokesman Dr. Samantha Ananda and other GMOA officials. Leaflets were distributed among people to raise awareness of the health dangers of imported milk powder.

    According to GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge, Rs. 54 billion was spent on importing milk powder to Sri Lanka in 2018, and it has been reduced by Rs. 20 million now due to high awareness among the public which resulted in the decrease of milk powder consumption in Sri Lanka. According to the Consumer Affairs Authority Committee Report, milk powder is a food item under the high-risk category. The expert committee was appointed responding to a request made by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya.

    “One leading multinational company which imports milk powder to Sri Lanka clearly states in its website that milk powder is produced by adding palm oil in order to cut cost and make profits. The company has not responded to the issue yet. Palm oil is cancerous. Imported milk powder is actually not milk,” he said.


    The Interim Report says that imported milk powder is not given to the 225 members in the Parliament, instead they are being given liquid milk and pasteurised milk. The report recommends not to import fat-filled milk powder to Sri Lanka and that domestic liquid milk should be consumed instead.

    The report points out that adulteration of imported milk powder within a range of 40 percent often conducted by private companies cannot be detected using the existing methods of testing.

    The report recommends that all relevant existing rules and regulations such as the Food Act and Consumer Affairs Authority Act should further be strengthened to protect consumers.

    The report recommends teaching schoolchildren of all ages that milk powder is not an essential food item and underlines the need for the promotion of a proper method to encourage the consumption of other local traditional food items instead of milk powder.






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