Starting September 1, newborns will not be fed baby formula unless the mother specifically opposes breastfeeding after receiving an explanation of its many health benefits or if nursing the baby would constitute a medical danger, according to instructions issued on Sunday by Health Ministry medical administration director Prof. Arnon Afek.

The decision is in line with World Health Organization guidelines to encourage breastfeeding.

If the mother insists that she will not breastfeed, the document said, she must be presented with the option of choosing among two different formula brands – and not only the formula provided to the hospital free by the company that manufactures or imports it. This eliminates the monopoly status of formula companies that existed for many years in return for their provision of free formula to newborns in hospitals.

The ministry and the WHO recommended exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life.

Breastfeeding plus supplements are recommended from then and beyond the first year. Nursing one’s baby provides the best possible nutrition at a critical time and is also beneficial for the mother, the ministry said.

Hospital neonatal departments must prohibit the distribution of baby bottles, formula, baby teas and other baby food. Baby food, including formulas, must not be advertised in hospitals, health clinics and wellbaby (tipat halav) clinics.

The ministry’s document also called for encouraging, supporting and protecting breastfeeding in accordance with the WHO’s Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.

All staffers at relevant workplaces must receive these instructions in writing, Afek wrote.

The ministry said that all new mothers must be taught directly and through pamphlets about the benefits of breastfeeding and how to do it. The mother must receive assistance at nursing within half an hour of delivery.

Even if mothers are not able to be with their newborns (if they are premature), they should be shown how to pump their breast milk, the ministry said.

Newborns in hospitals should not receive water or formula unless the mother insists. If they wish, new mothers should be given the option of rooming with their newborn, and the infants should be breastfed on demand. Each time the baby is given formula or water, and the amount consumed, must be recorded on the baby’s medical chart.

The ministry said it will conduct checks in the hospital to ensure that instructions – especially the option of two different brands of formula – are carried out.

The provision of free baby formula by the companies has been a comfortable and money-saving arrangement for hospitals because of the cost of providing them, and contracts were signed with the hospitals for exclusivity by the companies.

But as the Health Ministry owns many hospitals, the conflict of interest was clear, especially as ministry officials have made signed commitments to carry out the guidelines of the WHO.

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