New mothers in American Samoa are being encouraged to breastfeed their babies in their first four to six months, instead of using formula.
The LBJ hospital near Pago Pago has gotten rid of its formula and will soon enforce breastfeeding only.
New research on feeding patterns of Samoan babies found that nearly all pregnant mothers who plan to breastfeed only, will end up changing their minds after birth.
Dr Nicola Hawley from Brown University in the US is co-leading the research. She spoke to Richard Ewart.
B/A: Dr Nicola Hawley, clinical fellow in the Alpert Medical School at Brown University in America, speaking to Richard Ewart.
HAWLEY: I think that there is a tendency to think about this baby family initiative which is actually that the WHO and UNICEF launched right back in 1992. There's a tendency to think of this program as enforcing a rule or taking away formula, taking choice. It's actually not that and I think that it's important that people recognise that fact that it's not just about perhaps not making formula the first choice in the hospital, but it's also just about supporting breastfeeding on a whole number of levels, so things like having a very educated nursing staff and clinical staff who are able to support breastfeeding, making initiation of breast feeding a priority, showing mothers how to breastfeed and just supporting formula when they are ready as a medical necessity.
EWART: And, do you think this will make the difference in terms of mothers who were thinking they would breast feed prior to giving birth, but afterwards, as you said in the introduction, that they're changing their minds. Will this deal with some of the issues that persuade them to change their mind?
HAWLEY: So what we found in the research that we conducted last year really was that almost 100 percent of women really think that breastfeeding is the best thing for their baby, which is wonderful that these women are so educated about the health benefits of breast feeding. But actually what happens is that after about 8 weeks, only about 40 percent of women are managing to exclusively breast feed, which is what's recommended by the WHO up to 6 months. And what we saw was that there was a drop off in exclusive breastfeeding rates in two particular scenarios, so first of all, was to do with their experience in the hospital, so women particularly those who have caesarean section deliveries, who are separated from their baby for some reason as they perhaps recover from the delivery, who are exposed to a high level of pain medication and perhaps don't get the skin-to-skin contact that's required to actually get the breastfeeding process started or struggle to maintain exclusive breast feeding out to 8 weeks of age. And so some of the steps that this Baby Family Initiative that's been implemented in the hospital will really help to support mothers in dealing with those issues.
EWART: Long term, will this initiative do you think make a difference in terms of diet in the young people of American Samoa. We were talking a little earlier in the program about the obesity issue, which is so widespread across the Pacific. But is breastfeeding a much better start in life than going for formula, to try and avoid that kind of issue later on?
HAWLEY: Yeah. I mean we're certainly hopeful. The first 6 months of life, even the first year, are particularly dependent on nutrition. This is not about how active the babies are, it's really about dietary intake at that point and breastfeeding has the optimal design by its biology to really balance the amount of calories and nutrients that a baby needs and actually adapt. As the baby gets older, the content of the breast milk adapts to really fit the babies growth at that point and so we're hopeful that it may make inroads into giving these children the best start to avoiding obesity.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Dr Nicola Hawley, postdoctoral research fellow, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, US