AUGUST IS ‘BREASTFEEDING MONTH’
By: Senator PIA S. CAYETANO
29 August 2012
I. INTRODUCTION AND EXHIBITS
Mr. President, as we leave the month of August, I rise on a personal and collective privilege to bring attention to the celebration of Breastfeeding Month. Internationally, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every first week of August, but in the Philippines, Republic Act No. 10028, otherwise known as the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act, provides for a month-long celebration. This year’s celebration of World Breastfeeding Week has the theme“Understanding the Past – Planning the Future”  which challenges us to reflect on our experiences and monitor our progress towards our goal of ensuring that infants and children will be given the opportunity to be breastfed.
Earlier today, I had the privilege of officially opening a breastfeeding exhibit where photographer, Stanley Ong and his wife, Atty. Jenny Ong recreated 17th and 18th century breastfeeding paintings into modern photographs in a series entitled “Breastfeeding Art” with the theme “Inspired by the Past, Interpreted by Modern Day Moms to be Preserved for the Future Generation”.
I invite our colleagues and our guests to view the exhibit. Next week, I will also be officially opening another exhibit entitled “Padede”, an ongoing photography project on breastfeeding in the Philippines by Angelica Carballo-Pago.
Now let us review our past in terms of legislation: Executive Order No. 51 or the Milk Code of the Philippines was enacted by Pres. Cory Aquino in 1986. This was considered a victory for breastfeeding advocates. In 1992, Republic Act No. 7600 or the Rooming-In and Breastfeeding Promotions Act of 2009, which expanded the Rooming-In Act and emphasized the need for breastfeeding. Over the years there have been policies, more policies enacted to strengthen breastfeeding.
Mr. President, we have all heard and I hope we all know by now that breastmilk is the best and safest food for babies. This has been proven by experts. Unfortunately, a report by UNICEF, citing figures from the National Statistics Office, as of 2003, claims that 49% out of almost 7 million children in the Philippines were “given liquid or food other than breast milk within three days after being born”, when in fact, the yellow substance known as colostrum is all they need in the first few days of their life. But this is something that many mothers, many fathers do not know. They feel na iyong kaunting lumalabas na dilaw na fluid ay kulang sa bata at binibigyan sila ng tubig, ng formula, at ano pa na hindi naman kailangan ng baby.
In fact, as of 2005, statistics show that there were a staggering 16, 000 deaths from improper infant feeding practices including the use of infant formula in the Philippines. This is data gathered from UNICEF. Despite the fact that formula is very expensive, approximately P4,000 for a month, and breastmilk is free, the practice has continued due to unavailability of information or the lack of encouragement for mothers.
UNICEF further states that formula-fed infants have 25 times more chance of dying due to diarrhea than breastfed infants. Thus, it has become state policy to encourage, protect and support breastfeeding by virtue of existing laws, rules and regulations.
Together with breastfeeding campaigns in the grassroots level, strict implementation of the laws, we have had results that have shown from data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute that there has been a 36% exclusive breastfeeding rate in 2008 that has risen to 47% in 2011, and early breastfeeding practice rose from 32 % in 2008 to 52% in 2011.
III. CALL TO ACTION AGAINST BILLS THAT WILL UNDERMINE BREASTFEEDING
Mr. President, given the progress that we have achieved, let us continue to guard against any measure that seeks to undermine these gains. This will be an insult to the women and their babies. It would be a step back on our target to achieve our Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal, infant and child mortality.
In the past months, as little babies sleep and suckle at their mothers’ breasts, there is a wolf that is prowling. The wolf is dressed in sheep’s clothes, pretending to bring gifts to a mother and child in a pretty pink package to lead people to believe that it is pro-mother and pro-infant. But, in fact, it is undermining breastfeeding and it is NOT pro-mother and pro-infant. I am referring to attempts to diminish the current powers of the Inter Agency Committee to review and approve advertisements of breastmilk substitutes or formula for children beyond six months until three years of age. This would then allow milk companies to produce advertisements that tend to exaggerate the effects of their product and in effect, weaken breastfeeding – the very thing that EO 51 seeks to prevent!
IV. BREASTFEEDING AND DISASTERS
Another amendment that the wolf seeks to impose on the unknowing sheep is the distribution of formula milk, again, in a pretty pink package at a time when mothers are most vulnerable. Mr. President, I am referring to the distribution of milk during calamities.
The Philippines is considered one of the world’s most natural disaster-prone countries. We are situated along the western rim of the Pacific Ring of Fire. We are within the belt of active volcanoes and major earthquake faults and unfortunately, we are also located in the Pacific typhoon belt.
During times of disasters, I often get calls and texts from well-meaning friends asking if I can arrange for the distribution and donation of infant formula given that there is a ban on the donation of infant formula during calamities in evacuation centers.
Let me explain the reason for this ban which is endorsed by WHO, UNICEF, DOH, lactation specialists, and breastfeeding groups. It is important to understand the use of formula milk requires many, many things. In the International Breastfeeding Journal of 2011, it gives us a list of the necessary supplies for formula feeding during emergencies. It requires infant formula and clean water for mixing, cleaning hands, and washing equipment. This is about one and a half litres of water per feeding. You will also need a storage container to seal out dirt and insects. You would then need feeding bottles, the tether, the bottle brush, paper towels, and sterilizing equipment to ensure that everything is safe for the baby. On the other hand, if a mother is to breastfeed her baby, all you need is a mother.
Mr. President, given this long line of requirements to formula feed a baby, there is so much danger involved. If the water is not clean, a baby could get diarrhea and die. Look at our statistics, it is very clear, diarrhea is one of the leading causes of sickness and death in evacuation centers and in calamity stricken zones. This is also brought about by improper feeding of infants which could be resolved if breastfeeding alone was encouraged.
The other thing, Mr. President, that many people do not understand is that the supply of breastmilk is on demand. If we give the mother and child that pretty pink package of a formula milk in a can, during that time, the mother will stop or drastically reduce the production of her own milk. When that happens, and they go home, the mother will no longer have her own milk to provide her baby. What then happens to the nutrition of the baby? This is what many people do not understand about the disadvantages and the grave danger of providing free milk formula during calamities.
That is why, Mr. President, I call upon all my colleagues, many of whom hail from areas that are prone to disaster. I ask that my colleagues join me in conducting relief operations in a manner that safeguards our infants, help them live, keep them alive. Help us make this a truly mother-friendly country. Promote breastfeeding at all times!
With this, Mr. President, I ask that we all join the fight for the health of our mothers and children. Although August, the breastfeeding month, is about to end let not this campaign end when the month ends. Together, let us give life to the Constitutional right to health of our people.
 Data from:
 As cited in UNICEF, accessed from: http://www.unicef.org/philippines/mediacentre_19266.html#.UDxLRcFlTXh