Inspired Vietnamese parents declare guerrilla war on formula lobby

Thanh Nien News

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Trinh Quoc Tuan, a single father from Ho Chi Minh City, and some of 12,000 mothers who have joined his breast milk bank. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Trinh Quoc Tuan, a single father from Ho Chi Minh City, and some of 12,000 mothers who have joined his breast milk bank. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre


After obtaining a nursing degree, a woman identified only as N.M.H. came home and raised her first child on imported German formula.
The Ho Chi Minh City mother believes the canned alternative made her daughter a smarter, stronger child.
Doctors said confidence in breastfeeding has plummeted among Vietnamese mothers and H's mentality is now the norm, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.
Vietnam has pursued every available means--from regulations to professional advice--to promote breastfeeding.
Thankfully, they have received effective support from several parents.
Doctors said many parents and their families lack proper consultations, partly because formula companies manipulate them toward buying milk instead.
Dr Huynh Xuan Nghiem, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City's leading public obstetrics hospital Hung Vuong, said that official policy dictates that doctors advise new mothers to naturally feed their babies.
However, he noted that, formula companies have effectively paid doctors and nurses throughout the city to reduce that breastfeeding rate and promote the use of their products.
The bunk advice comes on top of television commercials that claim milk powders can develop "Einstein babies."
Nghiem said a hospital’s survey of 3,000 new mothers between February and May noted that they'd all brought formula to begin feeding to their babies almost immediately after delivering them.
“They didn’t believe they would have milk,” Nghiem told Tuoi Tre.
Half of the mothers believed they'd only start producing milk two days after giving birth, so they gave their babies formula without knowing that the infants need to begin suckling as soon as possible to receive the precious first breast milk and stimulate production, she said.
She said 20 percent of the mothers squeezed away yellowish colostrum despite having been advised of the secretion’s richness in antibodies and minerals.
Hung Vuong’s findings reflected statistics maintained by the Health Ministry, which said only 19.6 percent of babies in Vietnam are exclusively breastfed during the first six months of their life--among the lowest rates in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar tops the list with more than 50 percent.
Alive & Thrive, a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at reducing child malnutrition and death, has come up with similar survey results.
"[Many new mothers] don’t believe they can produce milk"                                                 --Dr Huynh Xuan Nghiem, deputy director of the Hung Vuong OB-GYN hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.
Nemat Hajeebhoy, country director for the project, said doubts about the quantity and quality of natural breast milk have prompted roughly 60 percent of mothers to breast feed their babies during the beginning of their lives.
Among various efforts aimed to support breastfeeding, Alive & Thrive has cooperated with the Vietnam Labor Union Federation to install 70 cabins at companies and offices nationwide by the end of July where mothers returning to work can squeeze breast milk into bottles and bring them home at the end of the day.
Milk banks
Dr. Tran Nguyen Thi Anh Dao, head of the nutrition department at Hung Vuong, said the hospital encourages the use of breast milk, even for premature babies or those who must remain hospitalized due to birth complications.
A Tuoi Tre reporter spotted Luu Minh Phuong rushing into the hospital one afternoon in late July to give his wife’s breast milk to his newborn son who was being treated for an infection.
Phuong said his wife squeezed the milk into bottles twice a day and he brought them to the hospital, which receives bottles of breast milk from 30 to 35 mothers a day. Half the bottles come from mothers donating extra milk.
Vu Thi Mai Linh breastfeeds her 3-month-old daughter and shares her extra milk with a 7-month-old baby being treated at the Central Pediatrics Hospital in Hanoi for a congenital condition that makes her unable to digest formula milk.
Linh described a shift in her thinking as a personal revolution.
She "worshiped" formula during her first pregnancy in 2008.
“I had a lot of milk then, but I also fed my baby extra formula as I thought that formula made babies chubbier," she said. “After I became pregnant with this second child, I did more research and decided that I’d feed her exclusively with breast milk during her first six months.”
She said compared to her first child, her breastfed daughter isn't so chubby, but “she’s very strong.”
Trinh Quoc Tuan, a young father whose wife died seven days after delivering their first daughter due to complications in childbirth started a milk bank after he was inspired by friends asking friends to donate breast milk for his baby.
The former member of a student group known for electronic inventions at the HCMC University of Technology now manages a milk bank that receives donations from 12,000 mothers.
He also invented special storage techniques to guarantee the milk’s quality.
Tuan has become the Good Will Ambassador to the World Health Organization’s week-long breastfeeding campaign, which is held every year between August 1 and 8.
Starting with five donors in HCMC, Tuan has since opened branches all over the country after his appeals posted on Facebook caught the attention of the public and local media.
Many of his beneficiaries share his daughter’s plight and come from families too poor to afford formula--a blessing-in-disguise after they learned about Tuan’s project.
One recent example, Tran Van Huy, lost his mother in early July--a week after he was born.
His father now catches a bus every three to four days to travel 170 kilometers from Tuyen Quang Province to collect milk from a bank branch in Hanoi.
Le Bach Mai, vice director of the National Nutrition Institute, said breast milk is pleasant and a baby will have no problems drinking milk from donors.
But Mai warned that women infected with HIV, hepatitis B and C should not donate their milk.
Although the viruses aren't transmitted via breast milk, they can spread through breast pumps and other extraction equipment.

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