Stop marketing baby formula milk, ministry warns makers

Kenya prohibited advertising of formula milk last year, but marketers pay celebrities to advertise products

In Summary

• Prevalence of bottle-feeding has increased from 22% 34% in the last eight years. At least  six months of exclusive breastfeeding is urged.

• Last week, Health PS Mary Muthoni also blamed formula milk dealers for the stagnation in Kenya.

Josephine Kericho breastfeeding one of her sons during an interview in her home in Ngusoro village in Isiolo County in Eastern Kenya in July 2021.
Josephine Kericho breastfeeding one of her sons during an interview in her home in Ngusoro village in Isiolo County in Eastern Kenya in July 2021.

Baby formula producers are violating the ban on advertising milk substitutes and using celebrity promoters. 

Breastfeeding is best for babies' health and immunity and doctors recommend at least six months or more of exclusive breastfeeding.

The Ministry of Health has sent warning letters to several marketers of baby formula milk in Kenya for violating regulations that ban the advertising of breastmilk substitutes.

The Kenya Breast Milk Substitutes regulations, which came into force May last year, ban the promotion of breast milk substitutes to protect mothers and babies.

However, marketers of formula milk moved to social media where they pay celebrities to advertise their products.

“We have seen several violations of this Act, and the Ministry of Health has sent letters warning to those businesses involved,” Shaheen Nilofer, Unicef representative to Kenya, told the media.

At least three dealers have been sent the letters, the Star has established.

Nilofer and the Ministry of Health, noted breastmilk substitutes were partly responsible for Kenya’s stagnating rate of exclusive breastfeeding

She asked the government to strictly enforce the Breastmilk Substitutes Act of 2012 and its regulations.

“This must be enforced, with companies promoting breast milk substitutes held to account,” she said.

Shaheen noted the prevalence of bottle feeding has actually increased from 22 per cent to 34 per cent in Kenya in the last eight years.

The World Health Organization's recommended target for exclusive breastfeeding is 70 per cent.

However, the recently released Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022 shows the rates of exclusive breastfeeding actually declined slightly from 62 to 60 percent, compared to 2014.

“The new survey also showed that only 38 per cent of infants aged four to five months were exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life,” Shaheen said.

Health PS Mary Muthoni also blamed formula milk dealers for the stagnation in Kenya.

“This (stagnation) is mainly attributed to inadequate awareness and education about the benefits of breastfeeding, cultural practices promoting early introduction of solid foods, limited access to proper healthcare facilities and support, maternal employment challenges and aggressive marketing of formula milk products, which have deterred mothers from exclusively breastfeeding their infants,” she said.

Muthoni also said societal stigma around breastfeeding in public adds to the difficulties, making mothers feel embarrassed or discouraged.

“The Breastmilk Substitutes (Regulation and Control) Act, 2012 provides for appropriate marketing and distribution of breastmilk substitutes; safe and adequate nutrition for infants through promotion of breastfeeding and proper use of breastmilk substitutes, where necessary,” she said.

Breastfeeding helps prevent approximately 54 per cent of all diarrhoea episodes and 32 per cent of respiratory infections in newborns.

It also significantly reduces infection-related mortality among infants less than three months old by 88 per cent, MoH said.

“In mothers, breastfeeding yields great maternal benefits including reducing chances of developing ovarian cancer and the development of invasive breast cancer by about six per cent each year a mother breastfeeds. These health advantages help prevent up to 20,000 maternal mortalities each year,” Muthoni said.

Laura Kiige, a nutrition support officer, on Monday said bottle feeding has effects on the baby as it makes them develop problems attaching to the mother's breast which is important in muscle development.

"The danger is that babies that are bottle-fed have nipple confusion. They may not be able to attach very well or enjoy breastfeeding because they have known an easier way of getting milk without having to suckle because suckling requires some effort to be put into that and the effort is what helps to develop the jaws of the baby," Kiige said.

Bottle feeding is not recommended for children under the age of two years with the World Health Organisation and Unicef warning that the nipple on a feeding bottle is susceptible to contamination and increases the risk of disease among children.

Formula is not as nutritious as mother's milk and if it is not made with pure uncontaminated water, it can carry infections that  can be fatal, WHO has warned.

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