Mexico has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world with less than a fifth of babies breastfed. Here’s what we’re doing to help using health messaging underpinned by behaviour change science.
We’re used to hearing breast is best. Breastmilk is best for the baby in terms of reducing SIDS risk, boosting the immune system, improving growth patterns, and reducing the risk of diabetes, stomach viruses, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, meningitis and allergies.
For mothers, breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of getting breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity. It can also reduce the risk of postnatal depression.
In poorer communities though, breastfeeding can literally be a lifesaver. And in almost all the developing countries we work in, mothers do breastfeed their babies.
But Mexico is different. It has one of the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the developing world. Only 18% of babies are ever breastfed. In the UK about 70% of babies are breastfed at birth and about 25% are still breastfeeding at six months. In Sweden the figures are 98% at birth and 68% at six months.
So why is Mexico so different? Here, formula milk advertising is seen everywhere. Even in maternity hospitals, free samples of formula milk are given to new mothers, to start them off on their formula-feeding journey right from the start. A new law should prevent this happening, but it is slow to take effect.
Here at Thrive, we are committed to developing a full understanding of our target audience as the first step towards building the perfect solutions for their needs. As such, we conducted focus groups with women to learn more about what was preventing Mexican women from breastfeeding. The women told us that advertisements had convinced them that formula milk is better than their breastmilk. What a topsy turvy world!
The phone messages we are writing for women in Mexico address these beliefs and help to convince women that their breastmilk really is the perfect food for their baby. With targeted mobile messages sent at exactly the right stage, we inform and educate, letting all women know that they can breastfeed exclusively until the baby is six months old and go on feeding until their baby is two years old.
Not all Mexican women are reluctant to breastfeed. One very educated mother told us about taking her still breastfeeding, bright, two-year-old to the beach one day. On this particular beach women were sunbathing topless. This little two-year-old gradually turned round and around looking over the beach. Finally he said; ‘look mummy, a world of milk!’
Maybe there is hope that breastfeeding will become the norm again in Mexico and women will give their baby the best healthyl start in life.