The government is hoping to reach an amicable agreement with private industry to stop promoting breast milk substitutes (formula and food) for mothers of babies below six months of age, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Chris Fearne said.

“Alternative milk should be available but the first option should always be breast milk. We must work with the industry to deliver a consistent message.

“I hope we won’t be forced to enact a legal notice and send wardens to patrol doctors’ clinics to make sure that that breast milk substitutes for mothers of infants under six months of age are not being advertised.

“But if needs be, we will enact legislation to enforce it.”

Dr Fearne was speaking this morning at the national breastfeeding consultation seminar, which discussed the draft National Breastfeeding Policy which was launched two months ago.

Dr Fearne said that breast was best for children because, according to scientific evidence, it increased bonding and reduced the risks of infections and allergies.

Breastfeeding infants also reduced the incidence of overweight children and adults.

Breastfeeding rates in Malta are among the lowest in Europe, with between 50 and 60 per cent of babies born at Mater Dei being breast fed while in hospital.

“That’s already a low figure. When the mother goes back into the community, she will come across barriers and that rate will drop,” Health promotion director Charmaine Gauci said.

She also called for workplaces to have a breastfeeding room in the event that the mother is allowed to bring along her infant. If not, Dr Gauci continued, workplaces should still be equipped with such a room so that the mother could extract breast milk to take home.

“In order for the body to keep producing milk, it needs to be done regularly. A mother can’t just wait until the evening to breastfeed her child.”