Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association

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Breastmilk Substitutes and Child Health Clinics
The following, much of which was published by UNICEF in July 2000, may beof interest to those concerned with sale of breastmilk substitutes in Child Health Clinics.
The practice of selling breastmilk substitutes via the health care system started in the mid 20th century when supplies of National Dried Milk were made available only to mothers attending the local health clinic. Thepractice has continued up to the present day, even though a wide selection of formula milks is now as easily available as any other food item at supermarkets, chemist, local shops and indeed petrol stations!
So what are the arguments for continuing the practice? Selling milk allows parents to buy cheaper formula milk.This argument means that the health service provides a 'perk' for bottle feeding mothers with no equivalent for those who breast feed despite the fact that bottle feeding has negative health implication for both mothers and babies. It also assumes that parents are influenced by price when choosing a brand. The much higher sales of well know brands over the cheaper own brands produced by companies such as Boots and Sainsbury's indicate that this is not the case. Mothers will stop attending clinic if formula milk isn't available for sale. Facilities that don't sell milk still have good attendance's. Perhaps itis time to look at how we are 'selling' preventive health care particularly as we provide no inducement at all for those who choose to breastfeed.
It is something we can do for those who give up breast feeding through no fault of their own.In reality if breastfeeding were better promoted, protected and supported within the health care system, health professionals would have far fewer mothers to support because they had 'failed' to breast feed
It is here that health professionals should be concentrating their efforts.The sale of breastmilk substitutes by health care staff or on health care premises sends a mixed message to the public about the belief we have inbreastfeeding, either as a complete form of nutrition for babies or as an activity which is likely to be successful. It is difficult to be convincing when recommending breastfeeding and reassuring women that they can be successful, while at the same time offering infant formula for sale The real reason that health centres and clinics sell formal milk is historical and if we really want to help ensure the best health outcomes for the population it is time to discontinue this outdated and potentially harmful practice.

Lecturer Practitioner & Health Visitor
Wroughton Health Centre
Barrett Way

Tel: 01793 813044, Fax: 01793 845526