Milkman Diaries
    Category: Healthcare By : Leighton Cosseboom Read : 1323 Date : Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 10:52:04


    Indonesian comedian Ernest Prakasa is well known for his stand-up performances. But on one subject Ernest isn’t joking: his support for breastfeeding. Last year, Ernest spoke at the event TEDx in Bandung about his new organization, AyahASI, a group of fathers who support breastfeeding that he started in 2012. With 19 self-initiated affiliates across Indonesia, AyahASI spreads humorous but informative material on Twitter, and published the book “Catatan AyahASI” (which Ernest jokingly calls the “Milkman Diaries”), which extols the virtues of breastfeeding over formula. Ernest says this book on breastfeeding has sold 18,000 copies and that his group is planning to release a second one within a few months.

    Ernest is tapping into a long-running controversy in emerging markets. The controversy surrounds the marketing and use of baby formula in these countries, especially by low-income mothers. NGOs have long alleged that big MNCs such as Nestlé and Danone spend huge sums in marketing campaigns to convince mothers to dramatically reduce or even stop breastfeeding in favor of formula.

    These NGOs claim that the MNCs undertake these campaigns knowing that, in most cases, breast-milk provides all the nutrients that a growing baby needs and formula is really only necessary as a supplement. Ernest claims formula companies in Indonesia last year spent $190 million in marketing, an increase of $80 million from the year before. Ernest says he is certain that the number has continued to rise until 2014. As he says in his TEDx talk: “We know they [formula companies] are big, the question is, are they bad? Well, do fish swim?” 

    A larger and older organization that advocates breastfeeding is the Association of Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers (AIMI). This group has more than 104,000 members on Facebook, upward of 70,000 Twitter followers, and 10,000 official members who have paid their dues. In addition to online advocacy, AIMI organizes awareness outreach and raises funds across 11 provinces in Indonesia to educate women on why breastfeeding is the safest and healthiest way to nurture babies in the first few months of life. Volunteers in AIMI help organize World Breastfeeding Week, and also visit rural Indonesian villages to spread their message to low-income families. The main thing AIMI does is to lobby the government and monitor the infant formula practices of corporations.

    According to these groups, there are several problems associated with the overuse of baby formula. First, low-income mothers may not have access to clean water, nor understand how to properly sanitize their water and bottles, resulting in formula or bottles that are contaminated and thus making their children ill or even killing them. Second, replacing breast-milk with formula could rob growing infants of important nutrients found only in breast-milk, as well as the emotional benefits of mother-baby bonding that come from breastfeeding. Finally, the cost of buying formula is expensive for many low-income families, whereas breast milk is the natural and free alternative.