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World Breastfeeding Week: New Breastfeeding Bill in Israeli Parliament

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, Lactation Matters will post every day this week, highlighting the stories of breastfeeding in different cultures and countries.

Written by Ellen Shein, IBCLC, LLLL

Photo by Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem (permission requested)

In 2011, a member of of the Israeli Parliament, Danny Danon,  proposed a bill for encouraging breastfeeding and limiting the activities of formula companies in the hospitals in Israel. Some of the main hospitals are government run, which means that for the past 30 years, the hospitals have had a hand in promoting the use of formula on a widespread level. Up until the present, many hospitals in Israel have received ONE KIND of infant formula for free from the major importers and manufacturers here.  Additionally, these hospitals have been paid millions of shekels for this exclusivity! Money from these companies have funded many salaries of nurses and of course has helped pay for much needed medical equipment. It is therefore, very difficult in today’s financial crunch to imagine hospitals surviving without these large sums.

These practices, of course, are in direct conflict with the directives and recommendations of the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The current bills states that hospitals will now have to purchase formula by tender and that the formula provided to mothers who choose not to breastfeed will NOT be limited to one specific brand. Statistics show that if a mother is given formula A in the hospital, she will stick with that brand.

Over the years, there have been overtures in Israel which have succeeded in preventing formula reps from handing out free samples in the hospitals, well-baby clinics and physicians’ offices. The companies have managed however to get a hold of statistics lists which include the names and addresses of new families and are still aggressively marketing their products.  This is done by making sure that each new mother receives formula samples by mail or in “gift packages” for new mothers handed out by one of the largest pharmacy chains.  Additionally, there are other private schemes which send stewardesses to the homes of 25,000 babies each year!

There is much dissention and objection to this new law. Many of the parliament members see this as an affront to women making a free choice in regards to how to feed their babies. In my opinion, the main mistake was to refer to this law as “encouraging breastfeeding” when in fact it should be about the “protection of the infant by freedom of feeding choices”. Part of the law includes a paragraph suggesting that the mother who chooses NOT TO breastfeed must sign a form stating that she is aware of the many benefits of breastfeeding yet chooses not to. This form should have nothing to do with breastfeeding and everything to do with formula feeding. Everyone knows the benefits of breastfeeding, but how many moyhers really know what those little bottles of formula are made of and what the negative outcomes can and most likely will be affecting their babies?  Many mothers have already chosen their method of feeding before arriving at the hospital and, here in Israel, we have a great track record of nearly 87 percent of all mothers initiating breastfeeding. We do not have to encourage the masses to breastfeed. What we need to do is inform those that choose NOT TO of the risks of formula feeding.

No one talks of the benefits of clean air when talking about the hazards of smoking, nor do they tiptoe around the damaging results of alcohol and drug consumption. But for some reason, no one seems to have the courage to stand up and point out the potential health risks that mothers who choose formula subject their babies to.

In early July, there was another finance committee meeting in the Knesset (Parliament) to which breastfeeding advocates were invited. There were representatives from La Leche League of Israel, the Israel Association of Certified Lactation Consultants (an ILCA affiliate) and a few other grass roots organizations. Unfortunately, we were not able to speak at this meeting, but are hopeful that this bill will ultimately be passed. It has passed a first reading, and now, it will probably wait til after the summer recess.

With a bit of language changing and letter writing, we are hopeful that most of the parts of this bill will pass. We are doubtful that the signing of any document will go through unless the Members of Knesset change the wording a bit and change the focus towards helping to improve health outcomes for babies, and not on encouraging breastfeeding.

Ellen Shein has been an IBCLC since 1987.  She began with La Leche League International and served on its Board of Directors from 2005 – 2011, representing Africa and the Middle East.  Currently, she is the Chairperson of the Israel Association of Certified Lactation Consultants. In addition, she is in private practice with Malhiv Breastfeeding and Support Center for New Mothers.


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