There are two types of television commercials that I particularly dislike _ whitening products and milk formula. Both of them are misleading. The first promises that you will attract handsome men when your skin is white, while the other tells you that your child can become a genius simply by drinking this milk.
Neither of them delivers that dream. Most Thai women are still not white-skinned, or at least not as supernaturally white as in the advertisements, and most Thai kids are not geniuses (I'm not saying they are not smart, but definitely not "genius").
When I first heard about an impending law preventing milk formula from being advertised, I was actually on board with the idea. However, as I read more about it, the wholesale ban doesn't seem to make much sense. In a nutshell, this law will not allow any infant food or related products including bottles and feeding nipples to be advertised, and donations of these products will not be allowed. The aim, they say, is to promote breastfeeding for the first two years of a child's life.
The Ministry of Health reasons that when these products are advertised, handed out for free or promoted in any other way, breastfeeding is discouraged. The logic is, if such actions are prohibited, breastfeeding would be successful.
As a working mother, I know all too well about the struggle that comes with trying to breastfeed for as long as possible while juggling a job. I was able to breastfeed for seven months, and that was it. I knew everything about "correct" breastfeeding techniques that promised to help you produce milk for years, but honestly, how many working mothers can really afford to do so for two whole years? Despite all my attempts, the supply just ran dry.
Our nanny has a small granddaughter, and she talks a lot about the little girl. She often tells me that in her community, infants are fed soup from boiled rice or diluted condensed milk, because it is cheap and easy to find. She said milk formula is too expensive. The girl's mother had to work, so she could not breastfeed the girl exclusively. Sometimes her daughter was given cow's milk, or even rice and curry. And she wasn't even one year old at the time.
This is the real situation. Many mothers have to go to work during the day, and a lot of mothers don't even live in the same house as the child. How can we expect successful exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months, and continuous breastfeeding in the first two years, when the two don't even see each other?
The nanny also said that most infants in rural areas would be given mashed bananas when they are about three months old, not because the mother doesn't have breast milk, but because they believe it fills the stomach better and children will grow faster. If that's the case, will supermarkets no longer put bananas on sale? Does that count as "promoting infant food"?
I think proper nutrition and breastfeeding, while linked and relevant, are two separate issues. You can promote breastfeeding by educating the public about the unrivalled benefits of breast milk, and hopefully it will trump other food options. Not talking about other infant food choices would be just as effective as not talking about sex with teenagers and thinking they won't know it exists. People should know what nutrients babies need, and what the best sources are. Saying breast milk is the only option is unfair for mothers who don't have that choice, or for children who for whatever reason don't have a mother.
If this law comes into effect, those who would suffer the most probably wouldn't be the milk formula billionaires, but the innocent children. Let's be realistic here _ banning milk formula commercials will not automatically encourage mothers to breastfeed for two whole years, or magically increase the milk supply to match the needs of the growing child. It might just mean more people will feed their children with the mashed-up version of whatever they can find in the kitchen.
If it were up to me, though, I would instead ban the use of the word "genius" from all milk formula commercials, because it is utterly misleading. I would also make it compulsory for workplaces to facilitate nursing mothers to pump and store their milk.
Instead of trying to banish milk formula, which, when appropriately used, is a perfectly healthy option, it should be considered that there are other more unsuitable foods for babies _ some even feed their babies with the controversial Pa Cheng enzyme drink, and more light should be shed on those.
Napamon Roongwitoo is a feature writer for the Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Outlook Writer