Islamabad - Health experts have advised the mothers to refrain their infants from formula milk to protect them from carrying associated health complications.

According to them, there were several alarming ingredients, which were dangerous for infants, but were being used openly in formula milk without having any check from regulatory bodies in the country.

They said several organic watchdog organizations claimed that Docosahexaenic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) may be responsible for gastrointestinal distress in some infants and demanded for banning these fatty acids from organic formulas.

They said DHA and ARA are extracted from algae and fungus using hexane, a petroleum- based solvent, which is hazardous to the nervous system. They said all formulas contain some kind of added sugar called sucrose which can lead to issues like degraded tooth enamel and even childhood obesity. Similarly, soybeans and legumes contain high levels of phytoestrogens which may disrupt reproductive system, thyroid function, immune function and brain development while some studies have linked Carrageenan, which is food addictive derived from seaweed to gastrointestinal ulcerations and tumours.

According to them, the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Pakistan was the lowest among South Asian region, which was 37.1 per cent only where as the rate of bottle-feeding or formula milk was higher in Pakistan in South Asian region, which was 32.1 percent.

“These indications are thought-provoking as well as alarming as many infants die every year in the country due to complications from using formula milk,” Dr Sobia Faisal, a public health expert said.

She said these infants could be saved by implementing the breastfeeding practices and avoiding formula milk of national or international brand.

She said many formula milk companies had been working in the country to attract the mothers. She said these companies through promotional advertisement and innovative planning capture the attention of mothers who considered formula milk as best option for their babies.

Dr Sobia said in Pakistan, 77 infants die out of 1,000 live births every year. Out of these 57 are those who die before reaching one month of age due to diarrhoea, pneumonia, respiratory infections and malnutrition. A major source of these diseases was lack of exclusive breastfeeding, use of unhygienic bottles, formula milk and teats, she added. By avoiding formula milk and encouraging mother milk, child and maternal mortality rate could be controlled.

Dr Wasim Khawaja from Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) said there were wide range of different formula milk brands and types while formula milk comes in different forms. Terming use of formula milk as unhealthy practice, he said exclusive breastfeeding reduces infant mortality due to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea or pneumonia, and helps for a quicker recovery during illness.

When contacted, an official from the Ministry of National Health Services said the ministry was working on awareness strategy to educate mothers on importance of breastfeeding and negative impacts of formula milk on infants’ health.

He said the ministry was committed to protecting the health and lives of infants by notifying concerned rules and regulations. He added several others steps were being taken to improving mother and child health.