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HEALTHY BABIES

New rules strike blow at breast milk substitutes

Regulations to deter inappropriate marketing and distribution of mother's milk substitutes

In Summary
  • Substitutes are usually prescribed for mothers who cannot breastfeed
  • Medical experts strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months
Breastfeeding mothers at Pumwani Hospital during the celebrations of World Breastfeeding Week.
BETTER BABY HEALTH: Breastfeeding mothers at Pumwani Hospital during the celebrations of World Breastfeeding Week.
Image: PATRICK VIDIJA

The government seeks to promote and support breastfeeding with a string of measures aimed at curbing substitutes for mothers' milk.

The Ministry of Health has developed new regulations to deter inappropriate marketing and distribution of breast milk substitutes, which it said expose infants to health risks.

The Breast Milk Substitute (General) Regulations, 2020, was drafted by the ministry jointly with the National Committee on Infant and Young Child Feeding, the Kenya Law Reform Commission and the Office of the Attorney General.

All manufacturers or importers of the products will be required to register with the Nutrition and Dietetic Division of the Ministry of Health.

Containers with the infant formula will be required to have a label stating: “Breast milk is best. Breast milk is ideal for the healthy growth and development of infants and young children. It protects against potentially fatal diarrhoea, lung infections and other illnesses.”

The words will be expressed in both English and Kiswahili in bold and conspicuous letters in a prominent position not less than 50 per cent the size of the container.

The container or package shall not show the logo of the manufacturer or distributor, or contain images that idealise the use of teats.

The containers or packages will also be required to indicate in words: “Use of teats interfere with breastfeeding,” which will be preceded by a warning.

The regulations further say interactions between a manufacturer or distributor with health workers shall strictly be limited.

A manufacturer or distributor who wishes to create awareness of scientific and factual matters of the breast milk substitute shall apply in writing to the ministry for approval.

The regulations note that the Cabinet Secretary responsible for public health may from time to time review the rules for the betterment of the Breast Milk Substitutes (Regulation and Control) Act, 2012.

“If a person is found to breach any provisions of these regulations two or more times, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for public health may issue an order for a penalty to be issued in relation to each violation,” the regulations state.

Substitutes are usually prescribed for mothers who cannot breastfeed, after a period of trying breastfeeding with full counselling and support and when there are acceptable medical reasons. 

They are also recommended when a national authority decides to promote formula feeding as the primary infant feeding method for HIV-infected mothers.

Breast milk is considered nature's perfect baby food as it contains immunity-boosting antibodies and healthful protein that scientists have yet to replicate. Many medical experts strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months.

WHO recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.

Breast milk is always fresh, perfectly clean, just the right temperature, and is the healthy choice at the least cost.

The regulations further say an authorised officer may from time to time collect and submit to a public analyst a sample of a designated product or a pre-packaged complementary food supplement for analysis.

In a letter to National Assembly clerk Michael Sialai, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe said his office is ready to engage the Committee on Delegated Legislation on the content of the regulations.