How blogger helped bring breastfeeding back to Serbia

Aleksandra Milenovic watches her 24 hours old baby Milica after breastfeeding her at the Obstetrics and gynecological Clinic "Narodni Front" in Belgrade on July 31, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 05 August 2018
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How blogger helped bring breastfeeding back to Serbia

  • Breast milk produced during those early days is especially rich in nutrients and antibodies, boosting infants’ chances of survival by protecting them from infections
  • While breastfeeding rates in the first hour after birth have skyrocketed in Serbia, the figures fall off significantly in the following six months

BELGRADE: When Branka Stamenkovic gave birth to her first child in Serbia, the experience was traumatic.
Minutes after the baby was born, nurses bundled up the infant and whisked him away, separating the mother and child for three days.
When they returned, the nurses gave Stamenkovic a cursory lesson in breastfeeding and sent the pair on their way.
Upset, overwhelmed and in pain, Stamenkovic detailed her experience in a blog in 2008 that triggered an outpouring of similar stories from women across Serbia.
It also unwittingly lit the spark for a UNICEF campaign that has turned the Balkan country into a leading example of how to boost early breastfeeding rates.
“I used to write the blogs and cry,” said Stamenkovic, recalling the horror stories that women sent her, including how nurses yelled, humiliated or ignored them, and failed to provide guidance on basics like breastfeeding.
“I published over 700 stories online, and this is how UNICEF actually learned about the sad state of affairs of the baby-friendly program in Serbia,” she told AFP.
The UN children’s agency had first launched its “baby-friendly hospital initiative” in Serbia in the 1990s.
But after it handed the program over to the government in the early 2000s, breastfeeding rates fell off a cliff, plummeting to eight percent in 2010.
The UN agency pointed to the stories on Stamenkovic’s blog to make a case for re-booting the initiative.
By 2014, the percentage of women breastfeeding within the first hour after birth was back up to 51 percent — a leap unseen among other middle and low-income countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF — who are marking World Breastfeeding Week until August 7 — have long pushed for mothers to exclusively breastfeed babies during their first six months of life, starting within the first hour after birth.
Breast milk produced during those early days is especially rich in nutrients and antibodies, boosting infants’ chances of survival by protecting them from infections.
But health experts must battle a multi-billion dollar baby formula industry, dominated by American firms, that aggressively advertises breast milk substitutes to mothers from day one.
Global debate over the issue was revived last month when a US delegation reportedly tried to water down a WHO resolution that called for the promotion of breastfeeding.
US President Donald Trump added fuel to the fire when he came out in defense of formula, drawing criticism from health experts.

The early form of breast milk, known as colostrum, “is the best food that a human being can ever get,” said Djurdjica Cecez, a neonatologist at Belgrade’s Narodni Front maternity hospital.
It is “precious and irreplaceable,” she added.
One of her patients, 31-year-old Aleksandra Milenkovic, experienced two different approaches first-hand.
Two years ago she was separated from her baby boy immediately after giving birth. He was brought back to her the following morning and was already being fed a formula diet.
Last week, at the same hospital, she delivered a baby girl and began breastfeeding immediately.
“I had the fantastic opportunity to be with this baby and have it touch with me, skin to skin. We spent an hour like that and the baby was breastfed for the first time, which was wonderful,” Milenkovic said.
“I think that is the most beautiful thing that could happen,” she added with a smile, lying down next to her 24-hour-old infant, fast asleep.

Cecez, her doctor, noted that Serbia has made impressive gains in promoting early breastfeeding in recent years.
Today, in order to be accredited, Serbian maternity hospitals must meet the “baby-friendly” guidelines that promote immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and child after birth, breastfeeding within the first hour and support to keep up the practice.
But Cecez stressed that much more work needed to be done to improve maternity care in the country, from increasing hospital staff to improving the education of both health workers and future mothers.
While breastfeeding rates in the first hour after birth have skyrocketed in Serbia, the figures fall off significantly in the following six months.
According to UNICEF, only 12 percent of mothers in Serbia exclusively breastfeed their children for that period of time.
Breastfeeding can be “a very painful thing sometimes,” said Stamenkovic, recalling the lack of guidance she received at the time.
“You need somebody to provide an emotional support, to cheer you up and say, ‘yes you can do it’.”
The blogger, who has since become a politician, could never have predicted that her online efforts would have such an impact and says she is “glad” to have contributed to the change.
“But we have a long way to go yet.”


Restaurants could be 1st to get genetically modified salmon

Updated 21 June 2019
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Restaurants could be 1st to get genetically modified salmon

  • The salmon produced by AquaBounty are the first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption in the US
  • They represent one way companies are pushing to transform the plants and animals we eat, even as consumer advocacy groups call for greater caution

NEW YORK: Inside an Indiana aquafarming complex, thousands of salmon eggs genetically modified to grow faster than normal are hatching into tiny fish. After growing to roughly 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) in indoor tanks, they could be served in restaurants by late next year.
The salmon produced by AquaBounty are the first genetically modified animals approved for human consumption in the US. They represent one way companies are pushing to transform the plants and animals we eat, even as consumer advocacy groups call for greater caution.
AquaBounty hasn’t sold any fish in the US yet, but it says its salmon may first turn up in places like restaurants or university cafeterias, which would decide whether to tell diners that the fish are genetically modified.
“It’s their customer, not ours,” said Sylvia Wulf, AquaBounty’s CEO.
To produce its fish, Aquabounty injected Atlantic salmon with DNA from other fish species that make them grow to full size in about 18 months, which could be about twice as fast as regular salmon. The company says that’s more efficient since less feed is required. The eggs were shipped to the US from the company’s Canadian location last month after clearing final regulatory hurdles.
As AquaBounty worked through years of government approvals, several grocers including Kroger and Whole Foods responded to a campaign by consumer groups with a vow to not sell the fish.
Already, most corn and soy in the US is genetically modified to be more resistant to pests and herbicides. But as genetically modified salmon make their way to dinner plates, the pace of change to the food supply could accelerate.
This month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to simplify regulations for genetically engineered plants and animals. The move comes as companies are turning to a newer gene-editing technology that makes it easier to tinker with plant and animal DNA.
That’s blurring the lines around what should be considered a genetically modified organism, and how such foods are perceived. In 2015, an Associated Press-GfK poll found two-thirds of Americans supported labeling of genetically modified ingredients on food packages. The following year, Congress directed regulators to establish national standards for disclosing the presence of bioengineered foods.
But foods made with the newer gene-editing technique wouldn’t necessarily be subject to the regulation, since companies say the resulting plants and animals could theoretically be produced with conventional breeding. And while AquaBounty’s salmon was produced with an older technique, it may not always be obvious when people are buying the fish either.
The disclosure regulation will start being implemented next year, but mandatory compliance doesn’t start until 2022. And under the rules , companies can provide the disclosures through codes people scan with their phones. The disclosure also would note that products have “bioengineered” ingredients, which advocacy groups say could be confusing.
“Nobody uses that term,” said Amy van Saun of the Center for Food Safety, who noted “genetically engineered” or “genetically modified” are more common.
The center is suing over the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of AquaBounty’s salmon, and it is among the groups that asked grocers to pledge they wouldn’t sell the fish.
The disclosure rules also do not apply to restaurants and similar food service establishments. Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that AquaBounty’s fish will represent a tiny fraction of the US salmon supply, and that many people may not care whether they’re eating genetically modified food. Still, he said restaurants could make the information available to customers who ask about it.
“The information should not be hidden,” Jaffe said.
AquaBounty’s Wulf noted its salmon has already been sold in Canada, where disclosure is not required. She said the company believes in transparency but questioned why people would want to know whether the fish are genetically modified.
“It’s identical to Atlantic salmon, with the exception of one gene,” she said.