05Angela Day baby food. Picture: Steve Lawrence 140808

Johannesburg - Draft regulations on food for infants could increase levels of malnutrition, illness and mortality, the Infant Feeding Association (IFA) said on Monday.

In the regulations, the health department proposed a restriction on communication between infant food manufacturers and healthcare professionals regarding the various products and their benefits, said IFA spokeswoman Lisa Walker.

It also sought to enforce exclusive and prolonged breastfeeding.

“While the IFA supports initiatives that promote exclusive breastfeeding, we believe that stringent regulation is not in itself a solution,” Walker said in a statement.

If promulgated in their current form, the regulations could result in the increase of malnutrition, illnesses and mortality in infants and young children, she said.

“At least eight percent of babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, with 31 percent fed a diet of both breastmilk and solid foods thereafter,” said Walker.

There were reasons why it could be difficult for women to breastfeed exclusively and for a prolonged period of time as required under the regulations.

“Many mothers have to return to work after just four months of maternity leave, while others have health complications and are unable to breastfeed,” she said

Migrating mothers often had to leave their babies in the care of relatives or caregivers far from their residences.

“A change in policy could be explored to grant mothers extended maternity leave. Companies can also focus on creating child-friendly working environments that support mothers by allowing regular breastfeeding breaks and offer suitable places to breastfeed babies while working.

“The majority of mothers who are unable or choose not to breastfeed rely on their health professionals to provide sound information on breast milk substitutes and guidance.”

Restricting communication between manufacturers and the professionals could have dire consequences for babies, Walker said. - Sapa