Many years ago Nestle and other companies that make baby formula were tried in the court of public opinion for pushing formula onto mothers, even though they had to know that breast-feeding is almost always better for the child. The world then pivoted back to encouraging new mothers to breast-feed for several months after birth. It seems, though, that the pivot wasn't quite so big in Egypt and that has created a fresh controversy in that country, as reported in a Public Radio International story pointed out to me by Debbie Fugate. The Egyptian government is struggling to stay afloat and so it has lowered its subsidy of baby formula, creating a supply problem for mothers that has caused a lot of consternation. The government has also implemented a very unusual test for mothers to confirm that they are not producing sufficient breast milk and thus need the formula.
New mothers in hospitals were the first to get the exams last month, intended to prove their need for extra milk. This measure symbolizes, some say, a depraved regime that disrespects women.But why is there such a demand for formula?
“There is a need to better inform mothers and communities on the importance of breastfeeding for their child’s survival and mental and physical development,” said Bruno Maes, UNICEF’s Egypt representative. The agency says fewer than one-third of children in Egypt aged 4 to 5 months are exclusively breastfed.
“The formula companies have done too good a job in marketing their product,” said Salma Ramadan, a pediatrician at Helwan General Hospital. “Many new mothers are not interested in hearing what we have to say about breastfeeding and start asking for the cans of subsidized milk even before they give birth.”The 2014 Demographic and Health Survey in Egypt showed that stunting was apparent in children under the age of 6 months. It also shows that almost all Egyptian mothers breastfeed their babies, but a high proportion also supplement breastfeeding with baby formula very early on. Most mothers are apt to prefer that convenience, but it may not be beneficial either for the baby or for the current economy.