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Ruth Gonzalez, a clothing company manager, feeds baby formula to her 9-month-old son Luis Fernando at her home in Mexico City.
Associated Press/Photo by Dario Lopez-Mills
Ruth Gonzalez, a clothing company manager, feeds baby formula to her 9-month-old son Luis Fernando at her home in Mexico City.

Mexican babies suffer from nursing slump

Health

Infants die at a higher rate in Mexico than in any of the other 40 largest world economies. Only one in seven mothers in Mexico breastfeeds, a dramatic decline from only six years ago. Experts link the two, and call the change a public health crisis. 

Breastfeeding gives babies the nutrients and antibodies they need to protect from infections. It also saves lives in countries with widespread polluted drinking water. Breastfeeding also cuts a mother’s risk of breast cancer in half. Breast cancer deaths increased twice as fast as Mexico's female population, but Mexican moms continue to replace breast milk with formula. 

Experts point to two main culprits. Baby formula makers push milk replacements, emphasizing  convenience and complete nutrition. Companies advertise directly to mothers and encourage doctors to promote formula. Many years ago, the World Health Organization and UNICEF published a marketing code for breast milk substitutes, restricting companies from aggressively pushing their products and from discouraging breastfeeding. Many Mexican nutritionists claim that companies totally disregard these rules. 

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Working away from home also brings an incentive for Mexican moms to use formula. New mothers returning to work find breastfeeding complicated and socially discouraged. Companies rarely provide spaces for nursing, and doctors recommend switching to the convenient formula. 

Child nutrition expert and health adviser for Chiapas state, Marcos Arana Cedeno, said that Mexico has become “the example of what not to do. It’s the strongest case of a setback in breast-feeding.” 

Brazil and Colombia saw similar setbacks several years ago but actively addressed the problem. Brazil strictly limits advertising by baby food companies and airs prime-time informational spots with national celebrities to dispel myths about breastfeeding. Now, 39 percent of Brazilian moms nurse their babies. Columbia leads Latin America, with 47 percent of moms choosing to breastfeed. More American moms are also choosing to breastfeed. In 2012, 16 percent of moms chose to nurse, compared to only 11 percent six years ago. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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