The first mother’s milk bank in mainland China has opened in Guangzhou. It is starting out with four rooms and 80 mothers donating milk. The southern city has a population of more than 12 million. But the two founders at the Maternity and Childcare Hospital say new callers have been eager to give, and the response is more than they expected.
One donor said she was motivated by the sick babies she learned about on television, who she felt sorry for.
China was struck by a terrifying food scare in 2008 when parents feared for their babies’ lives. At least six infants died and 300,000 fell ill from drinking store-bought milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine. Beijing has tried to reassure people that milk powder and dairy products in China are now safe and rigorously tested. However, lax regulatory enforcement is still a problem. Demand for foreign milk powder is high.
Animal milk production in China falls far below demand. A cow there produces one third the milk of an average Western cow. In 2010, China imported 550,000 tonnes of powdered milk, and today half its needs. Ten years ago, most of the country’s dairy operations had ten cows or fewer. Now, well over half of them are much bigger, having been grouped together into modern cooperatives for efficiencies of scale, hygiene and quality control.
Scandals shook consumer confidence in Chinese-made baby products and led to shortages of powdered milk in Hong Kong and Australia as people bought boxes to export to China. Some British stores have rationed sales after Chinese visitors and bulk buyers cleared their shelves of baby milk to send to China.
The rise of the middle-class Chinese working mother has greatly increased sales of baby milk in the world’s most populous country.
Paediatrician Liu Xihong said there are relatively few breast-feeding mothers in China, and that another problem is she found just eight percent of mothers would agree to let their child feed on another mother’s milk – rather than formula.
The UN Children’s Fund said fewer than one in three Chinese under-six-month-old is breastfed.