A woman buys infant formula in a supermarket in China. (Photo/Xinhua)
China's declining breastfeeding rates have been linked to data showing that 56.2% of the country's mothers received information about alternatives to breastfeeding during their pregnancy or while they were breastfeeding, reports the Chinese-language International Finance News.
The data, released by the China Consumer Association, reflects similar results overseas, based on a report from the Save the Children group in Britain. Media reports in the UK said that the British group found that several companies, including global giants Nestle and Danone, had encouraged mothers to use milk substitutes to feed their children aged six months or lower.
Such developments are rampant in developing countries, such as Pakistan and China, and violate the World Health Organization's international code of marketing for breast milk substitutes, the organization said.
He Tong, head of public relations at Nestle China, said the Swiss company follows WHO rules and supports the view of continuous breastfeeding, even after solids are introduced to an infant's diet.
However, Save the Children said in its report that a quarter of mothers in China have received gifts from dairy companies, while 40% were given samples of baby formula from companies including Nestle, Wyeth and Mead Johnson.
The British group also found that 16 out of 35 food shops in six Chinese cities had promoted breast milk substitutes through salespersons, posters or gifts.
Save the Children said such marketing has resulted in the percentage of breastfeeding mothers in East Asia and the Pacific to drop from 2006's 45% to 2012's 29%.
Similar views were shared by an expert in China, who told the International Finance News that the marketing campaigns from dairy companies have led to a decline in breastfeeding rates across the country.
The Chinese consumer group also pointed out the lack of regulations and penalties for violating the WHO marketing rules in China, urging for new legislation in this regard.