While breast milk provides all the nutrients an infant needs, some situations call for formula

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 00:00 | By
Baby feeding on a tight budget.

Medical experts recommend  exclusive breast feeding of infants for up to six months.

Nothing beats the nutritional value of breast milk as it also boost the child’s immune system thus protecting them from constant illnesses.

As good as it is and should be… there are many situations which drive young mothers to the alternatives of breast milk - infant formula.

From the breast milk drying up, to resuming work after maternity leave and sometimes; as is the case of Kauthar Wanjiku, the baby just refuses to feed on breast milk. 

“My son Yassin completely refused to breastfeed when he was three weeks old.

He had been introduced to formula at the hospital, immediately after birth because I wasn’t producing milk.

Then after we left the hospital, I tried to breastfeed for two weeks, but he did not want to feed.

But when I gave him formula milk, he was okay with it,” shares the mother of one.

As much as the formula provided for the best alternative, it wasn’t cheap and the quantity of consumption also increased with time.

This eventually pushed Wanjiku to resort to cow milk when her son was five months old, despite doctor’s recommendation to use formula until he was one year old. 

Unsustainable meal

“I was buying one tin of formula milk for Sh1,200. My son needed two tins in a week.

To make it last a longer, I started buying two tins of the formula and mixing it with one box of cerelac.

The cerelac box is Sh300. And to add on to this, I had to surpass the recommended water quantity, just to make it last. I was spending a lot of money and it still wasn’t enough.

In a week, I spent up to Sh3,000 on formula, which was too expensive for me. In the end, I had to quit and introduce him to the normal milk,” she shares.

Adjusting to cow milk was hard for the child. He had a running stomach for almost a month before he got used to it.

This is not a strange tale to most families  dependent on milk formula. The prices are high and most mothers opt out before it is the right time, risking their new-borns’ health and lives. 

The introduction of the 16 per cent Value Added Tax in the Finance Act 2021, on essential commodities such as bread and infant milk, products that were previously zero rated threatens to dig an even bigger hole in the pockets of families’ dependent on them. 

Economic Analyst William Odhiambo says this is going to further burden most families.

“Families who rely on these commodities will have to dig deeper in their pockets; therefore, household budget is expected to rise.

For poor mothers in the villages, who even getting Sh1,000 is a struggle, this is too much.

Most of them don’t follow the advisory on infant feeding and opt to start weaning early.

And generally, this decision is going to reflect even more in the children’s nutritional health,” says the financial expert. 

Side effects

According to Dr Joseph Kenga, senior paediatric nurse at the Coast General Training and Referral Hospital, the increasing price of formula milk may result in more infant deaths.

“For mothers who cannot breastfeed for various reasons, being unable to buy formula milk will see rise in malnourished children, which follows several infant ailments such as diarrhoea and vomiting, and skin diseases such as Alzheimer, which can be difficult to treat,” shares Dr Kenga.

While there are mothers who can comfortably afford to buy the infant formula for the advised term, the ones from vulnerable families will be exposed to a bigger punch trying to fend for their young ones. 

“Many people opt for cow milk when they cannot afford the formula. But cow milk is not the same as mothers’ milk. Infants cannot digest cow’s milk as completely or easily as they digest formula.

Also, cow’s milk contains high concentrations of protein and minerals, which can stress a newborn’s immature kidneys and cause severe illness at times of heat stress, fever, or diarrhoea.

In addition, cow’s milk lacks the proper amounts of iron, vitamin C, and other nutrients that infants need.

It may even cause iron-deficiency anaemia in some babies, since cow’s milk protein can irritate the lining of the stomach and intestine, leading to loss of blood in the stools. All this spells doom for infants’ health,” says the expert. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has developed new regulations aimed at supporting and promoting breastfeeding as an ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants. 

The Breast Milk Substitute (General) Regulations, 2020, prescribe the manner of conduct in the following areas as required by the Breast Milk Substitutes (Regulation and Control) Act, 2012: labelling, advertising, donations,  publication of Information, education and communication materials; and penalties for failure to adhere to the Act. 

The Act ,however ,does not prohibit the sale of breast-milk substitutes; it only prohibits promotion of these products and their sale if they fail to meet labelling, compositional, and other relatedrequirements..

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