Formula feeding increases infants' infection, hospitalization rates: study

By Phan Anh   September 19, 2019 | 07:25 pm PT
Formula feeding increases infants' infection, hospitalization rates: study
A premature baby is supported with breast milk from a human milk bank at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, April 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.
Vietnamese infants raised on formula have increased risk of infection and hospital admission, a study says.

The study, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood last Sunday and authored by researchers from the Curtin University Bentley Campus in Australia and the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in HCMC, surveyed 1,709 pregnant women at 24-28 weeks of gestation at six hospitals in Hanoi, Hai Phong and HCMC between August 2015 and December 2017.

They were subsequently followed up after discharge.

The study found 25.5 percent of infants experienced diarrhea and 47.6 percent of them contracted lower respiratory tract infection by 12 months. Of them 56.5 percent had consumed prelacteal feed while 79.5 percent consumed infant formula.

Compared with infants who were exclusively breastfed, these children were 1.5 times more likely to suffer from adverse health outcomes, including hospitalization, the study found.

It concluded that prelacteal feeding and early formula feeding before hospital discharge are associated with higher risks of infection and hospital admission in Vietnamese infants.

Support for exclusive breastfeeding should be provided to mothers to avoid these adverse consequences, it added.

A survey by Vietnam's Health Ministry in 2016 found that only 19 percent of Vietnamese infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, significantly lower than in neighboring Laos (40 percent) and Cambodia (60 percent). 

The WHO has long advocated exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age, and partial breastfeeding for up to two years or more.

But giving prelacteal foods and formula milk to infants soon after birth is a common practice in Vietnam. The government has tried to improve the breastfeeding rate by increasing maternity leave from four to six months and issuing a ban on advertising formula products for children under two.

Vietnam opened its first human milk bank in the central Da Nang City in 2017 to provide milk for 3,000-4,000 at-risk infants every year. It also aims to protect, promote and support breastfeeding by providing lactation support for mothers. The first human milk bank in HCMC opened in April this year.

HCMC's first milk bank opens. Video by Le Binh.

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