With all the bold claims of milk formula companies constantly thrown at us, how do we know which is best?
Under the Employment Ordinance in Hong Kong, new mums are only entitled to 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, significantly less than many countries in Europe, where the period of paid leave can range from 14 to 58 weeks. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Hong Kong has one of the lowest rates of babies who are fed only on breast milk. Given that new mums in Hong Kong have to return to work so soon after birth, it is understandable that they have trouble maintaining a breast milk only diet for their babies. Instead, they do not really have a choice but to turn to feeding their new-borns with baby milk formulae, if not completely, to a substantial degree.
As a result of its popularity, the competition between manufacturers of baby milk powder is fierce. Today, we are all bombarded with advertisements of such products, all boasting to be the crème de la crème of baby milk formulas. Such advertisements make bold claims with respect to their nutritional value and their significance in contributing to the wholesome development of babies and toddlers. These adverts tend to throw scientific jargon around as well as statistics which may not be as well proven as perceived. And often, the reality of the manufacturer’s “facts” can only be found in the tiny small print at the bottom of your television screen which you don’t even have enough time to squint through. It is easy to see why new mums (and the rest of us too!) would feel confused with all the options out there leading to difficulties in making the “right” choice for their little ones.
As a result of the contentious verity of such advertising, authorities have pushed for more regulations on the descriptions of baby milk formulae. Public consultations have also revealed an increasing demand from the public for the government in Hong Kong to identify false advertising techniques and prevent any unfounded claims on the quality of these products. The Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene have been working hard to establish a better Code of Marketing within the Legislative Council with respect to milk formulae as well as other food-related products for young children and babies.
So is there such a thing as “the best baby milk formula”? Are the more expensive ones the better ones? The truth is, there probably isn’t a big difference between various brands of milk powder. The fact is – large scaled scientific research around the world have established that breast milk is the best form of nutrition you can give to your baby, and baby milk formula is just a not-as-good substitute. Sadly, we are faced with the reality of keeping up a primarily breast milk based diet for our young ones so we must turn to other methods to make well-informed comparisons between the different brands of milk formulae. Rather than focusing on dubious claims we see in advertisements, mums can go back to the basics. It is useful to do a little research in advance and examine the nutritional labels regulated by official authorities. For example, we can compare the sugar contents within different formulae, a component that should be taken into consideration in any diet. New mums can also elicit help from paediatricians or other healthcare providers in choosing a suitable product for your baby. Hence, although it remains impossible to determine which milk powder is the “best”, you can still find a healthier option for your child with a little effort.
At the end of the day, breast milk is still the best form of nutrition for babies. There are also many additional benefits to breast feeding, including the promotion of close bonding between mother and baby. It’s true that it takes a whole lot more effort and energy to continue feeding your child with breast milk after returning to work, perhaps new mums can strike a balance and provide their babies with a mixed diet of both breast milk and milk formula so they get both the benefits of breast milk as well as the sustenance that milk formulae can provide.
This article focuses on how advertisements of milk formulae can be misleading. But it is important to keep in mind that it is not my intention to argue that “all milk powders are bad so we should not give them to our babies”. Instead, I am hoping that mums can approach the use of baby milk formulae in a less panicky manner and face the plethora of choices with more information and confidence in order to find the most appropriate option for their babies. After all, each baby is different and their needs will change as they grow – and no one knows better than mummy!