Mothers coax their babies to the finish line during a World Breast-Feeding Week activity held by the Henan Health and Family Planning Commission. [Photo by MA JIAN/FOR CHINA DAILY]
More than 61 percent of children 6 months or younger in China are now predominantly fed breast milk, but the rate of exclusive breast-feeding-which is highly recommended-remains low, according to new research.
A child is considered exclusively breast-fed when breast milk is given without any additional food or liquid, health experts said.
China's top health regulator aims to raise the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life to 50 percent by 2020.
"The rate now is higher than the 20.8 percent measured by the National Health Commission in 2013, but it's still far from the 2020 goal," said Lu Mai, vice-chairman of the China Development Research Foundation, which released the research.
The new research was conducted from September to December and was based on more than 10,000 questionnaires collected in 12 urban and rural regions.
Major barriers to achieving a higher rate of exclusive breast-feeding include a lack of facilities in public areas and workplaces, poor implementation of maternity leave and poor compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, experts said.
The latest data also show families in large cities tend to mix infant formula with breast milk, and those in smaller cities and rural areas prefer feeding their children with additional liquid and solids along with breast milk.
"We believe it's easier to convert those who add extra liquids than those using instant formula, so the research sends a positive signal," said Lu. "If we persuade the majority of the 61.2 percent to quit adding liquid, we can realize the goal."
However, experts warn that it's important to reinforce a standard definition of exclusive breast-feeding and boost awareness of the benefits of breast milk.
"Exclusive breast-feeding means to feed baby with breastmilk only without addition water or liquid. The exclusive breastfeeding rate in China was 20.8 percent based on 2013 National Nutrition and Health Survey," said Anuradha Narayan, section chief of health and nutrition at UNICEF's China office.
"I think the point of the new research is that there is a group of women whose attitude toward breast-feeding can be shifted fast," she said.