September 06, 2023 11:52
Fewer and fewer of Korea's mothers are breastfeeding their increasingly rare babies.
The proportion of Korean infants who are breastfed by their mothers six months after birth fell from 66 percent in 2010-2012 to 34 percent in 2019-2020, according to a study in the Journal of Korean Medical Science.
Researchers Chang Ju-young and Oh So-hee of Boramae Medical Center in Seoul and Hong Jea-na of Kangwon National University found that the rate fell from 65.9 percent over the period to just 33.6 percent. That includes mothers who used a mixture of breastfeeding and formula.
The ratio of mothers who feed their children only breast milk fell most steeply from 42.8 percent to 13.1 percent. The development bucks the global trend, where breastfeeding is encouraged due to the health benefits for the child and, according to the World Health Organization, the global average was 41 percent in 2017.
Breast milk has been proven to be better for newborns because it contains a balanced mix of essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, and antibodies that support the infant's immune system.
Babies who are breastfed are reported to have a lower risk of diseases like atopic dermatitis, asthma and obesity compared to those fed with formula. Additionally, breastfed babies tend to have faster brain development.
Breastfeeding is beneficial for mothers as well. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of developing conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, and breast cancer. The breastfeeding process can also promote emotional bonding between the mother and the baby.
The WHO and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life, followed by continued breastfeeding along with complementary foods for up to 1-2 years, which is admittedly a tall order for many women.
The main reason for the declining rate in Korea is an increase in working mothers and lack of awareness and facilities like quiet breastfeeding spaces. One 30-year-old working mother who has a five-month-old baby said, "I only took three months off after having my baby because I want to take childcare leave when my child goes into elementary school. I work for a small company, so there is no breastfeeding room, so I have to go to a department store near my office every three to four hours with a breast pump and ice packs."
Jung Yoo-mi, a former head of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Korea said, "It's difficult for an infant and the mother to be together 24 hours a day, but it is crucial to form a bond through breastfeeding. Obstetrics clinics and postpartum care centers should set up more breastfeeding rooms and help mothers learn how to breastfeed their babies."
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