Sen.Pia: Breastfeeding a security issue

Breastfeeding: Not a Fad, Not a Trend, but a Security Issue
Privilege Speech
By Sen. Pia S. Cayetano
11 August 2014

Mr. President, esteemed colleagues,

Headlines abound with security issues like rice shortage which leads to food insecurity, energy shortage which leads to blackouts. But who would ever think that breastfeeding is a security issue as well?

Late last year, I was a fellow at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies for Transnational Security. We discussed various security risks and I was exposed to the thinking that there is a ‘soft side’ to security. Threats to human security are not just political and military, but also social, economic and environmental. A wide array of factors contributes to making people feel insecure.

To a mother, her child’s security is directly related to his or her health and well-being.

For years, advocates and both national and international agencies have fought for policies that support the right of a child to be breastfed and a mother’s right to breastfeed. But many misconceptions still exist. Many practices need to change. As pointed out by Ma. Lourdes Vega of the National Nutrition Council at the Legislative Briefing on Infant and Young Child Nutrition which I co-organized today, this is an infant and child food security issue. If we intend to raise a nation of healthy, intelligent and productive young people, this should be our concern.

World Breastfeeding Week Theme

This year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action has chosen the theme, “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal For Life!” which serves to highlight the importance of breastfeeding in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It emphasizes the link between breastfeeding and each of the eight international goals established by the United Nations to eliminate poverty and promote sustainable development across the globe by 2015.

Breastfeeding and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Mr. President, allow me to briefly discuss how breastfeeding contributes to the achievement of each of the MDGS.

MDG 4 – Reduce child mortality

To reduce child mortality, breastfeeding is one of the four main strategies promoted by the World Health Organization.[1] Improved breastfeeding practices alone reduce infant mortality by about thirteen percent (13%), and by six percent (6%) with improved complementary feeding.[2] Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life can have the single largest impact on child survival of all preventive interventions, with the potential to prevent twelve to thirteen percent of deaths among children under five years old in the developing world.[3] In addition, around half or fifty to sixty percent of deaths under five is secondary to malnutrition, largely caused by inadequate feeding following poor breastfeeding practices.[4]

MDG 5 – Improve maternal health

Breastfeeding also contributes to the goal of improving maternal health. Mothers themselves stand to gain numerous physical and emotional health benefits from breastfeeding. Apart from establishing the greater mother-to-infant bonding, and helping mothers lose weight post-pregnancy, breastfeeding is also associated with decreased maternal postpartum blood loss, decreased breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, and osteoporosis.[5] Breastfeeding also delays the return of fertility and serves as an imperfect means of birth control.[6] It contributes to increasing birth intervals, thus reducing the risk of pregnancies too close together.[7]

Earlier today at the Legislative Briefing on Infant and Young Child Nutrition, UNICEF Country Representative Lotta Sylwander spoke of the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child. Those 1,000 days start at conception, thus the importance of maternal health.

C. MDG 6 – Combating diseases

MDG 6 seeks to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Breast milk is the baby’s best defense as it provides complete nutrition, improves their immune system, and dramatically reduces their vulnerability to diseases. Just in the news today is the discovery of a protein in breastmilk that fights HIV.[8]

MDG 1 – Eradicate extreme hunger and malnutrition
Exclusive and continued breastfeeding helps in the goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, as it is a cost-effective way of providing high quality nutrition and preventing hunger and malnutrition of babies and children.[9]

MDG 2 – Achieving universal primary education

Breastfeeding also contributes to the goal of achieving universal primary education. It is an established fact that one of the obstacles to learning is malnutrition. A malnourished child lacks mental focus and energy, which prevents him from absorbing all that he can be learning. As UNICEF Country Representative Lotta Sylwander emphasized in our forum earlier this morning, stunted growth in many children due to inadequate feeding cannot be reversed. But with a breastfeeding culture, these children will be adequately nourished as infants, and later as toddlers with complementary feeding. It helps give a child healthy and strong mental and physical development. Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of stunting, enhances mental and cognitive development, and promotes learning.

MDG 3 – Promoting gender equality and empowering women

Breastfeeding is a right and privilege unique to women.[10] To provide an atmosphere both in the community and in the workplace that allows a woman to breastfeed is in itself an acknowledgment of a woman’s special needs. It further empowers her to fulfill her role as a breastfeeding mother and a productive member of society.

MDG 7 – Ensuring environmental sustainability

In working towards the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability, breastfeeding is a healthy and natural source of sustenance that entails less waste and reduces the use of firewood and fossil fuels in the home, as compared to milk formula production that generates waste from multiple industries.[11]

MDG 8 – Global partnership for development

Finally, we have the last MDG which is to develop the global partnership for development. The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Children Feeding (GSIYCF) fosters multi-sectoral collaboration and adopts an approach that builds upon various partnerships that support development through breastfeeding and complementary feeding programs.[12]

As I have illustrated, breastfeeding contributes to achieve all eight of the Millennium Development Goals. As much as possible, we must take advantage of the enormous benefits of breastfeeding for the baby, the mother, and society.

Back to Basics and Breastfeeding in Disasters

Mr. President, allow me to go back to the fundamentals of breastfeeding to provide basic information to the Body.

Breastmilk is not only perfectly safe and equipped to give infants and young children complete nutrition; it dramatically reduces their vulnerability to diseases. Bottle-fed babies have very low immune systems compared to breastfed children. While the World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend six months of exclusive breastfeeding for optimal infant growth, development and health, only 34 percent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed in the Philippines.[13] It is generally recommended that infants not be given water, juices, other milks or complementary foods until six months of age, yet almost 70 percent of Filipino infants under six months receive complementary liquids or foods [14] This is inevitably linked with the 12.2 percent of infants from zero to five months, and 15.2 percent of infants from six to eleven months who are underweight,[15] as well as 20 percent of infants at twelve months who are underweight.[16]

During emergency situations and calamities, breast milk is also a mother’s best advantage and a baby’s best defense. Breastfeeding nourishes and protects the baby in a difficult and high-risk environment, such as in evacuation centers. Breastfeeding versus formula-feeding also begs the question of practicality, since there is a long list of necessary supplies for formula-feeding, plus the added burden of ensuring that all these equipment are sterilized and safe. This is a very difficult task especially because mothers in evacuation centers hardly have access to clean, potable water. When babies are given unsafe or contaminated water for formula milk, they can acquire diarrhea or other water-borne diseases that might eventually lead to death, whereas breastfeeding is always safe and sanitary for the baby.

Further, formula-feeding presents massive costs in health and in lives. The average cost of formula-feeding one infant is four thousand pesos per month.[17] The WHO estimates that Filipinos spend 43 billion pesos a year for formula-feeding, as compared to breastfeeding which is free. And yet, formula-fed infants have 25 times more chances of dying due to diarrhea than breastfed infants.[18] Parents who bottle-feed their infants also miss working days, resulting to around one billion pesos in total lost wages due to the sick infant they have to attend to.[19] Formula-fed infants under six months are sick twice as often and stay sick 50% longer. Worse, 16,000 infant deaths are recorded yearly due to inappropriate infant feeding practices, including infant formula.[20]

The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act

As the legislative body, we have enacted legislation to encourage, promote, and support the practice of breastfeeding through Republic Act No. 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act, which I sponsored. Studies have shown that going back to work is one of the main reasons mothers stop breastfeeding. This law seeks to create an environment where the physical, emotional, and psychological needs of mothers and infants are fulfilled through the practice of breastfeeding. This law protects and promotes the rights of nursing mothers and working women who balance their maternal function with work responsibilities.

It also requires that public facilities that cater to mothers must provide for lactation rooms. During my travels, I am heartened to see that there are more breastfeeding/lactation rooms in public places such as malls and in the photo before you, is a breastfeeding station in a ferry terminal in Cebu.

Launch of the Senate breastfeeding room and breastfeeding exhibit

Before you my dear colleagues is the Senate breastfeeding room which we launched today. In this light, I am happy and proud to note that this breastfeeding room is now open and has already been used by some women who comprise our staff. I take this as a milestone as I have, since the early start of my term, been pushing for a nursing room in the Senate. This is also in compliance with RA 10028. I thank the Senate Gender and Development Focal Point for making this a reality. Earlier today, we also launched a breastfeeding exhibit, in partnership with World Vision and couple Stanley and Jenny Ong.

Mr. President, I was surprised when we had the launch earlier today – Senator Villar was with us and later on, Senator ‘Bam’ Aquino also joined – to find out that there were more than ten breastfeeding women in the Senate. I actually made a count a few years ago and we estimated it to be much less. But to know that these women will be able to avail of this room, that they will be able to continue breastfeeding, and for their bosses, I can assure you that it will redound to less absents on their part. Because from personal experience, having had breastfeeding mothers in my staff, I being a breastfeeding mother, you do not take as much time off to care for sick children because breastfed children, especially in the first year of life, rarely have any incidents of ailments that require that they visit the doctor. The doctor’s visits are usually well baby visits. So I hope that the bosses will take note of this need of our women who will have to take time out at least twice, probably thrice, but in my case, I do not even count, I let them express their milk whenever they deem necessary so that they can perform their duties as a mother. And again, from personal experience, they become even better members of my staff because they feel comfortable about their ability to juggle both their work and their personal life.

I would also take this opportunity, Mr. President, although I digress a bit, to remind everyone that mothers, whether they are breastfeeding or pregnant, should be accorded the utmost respect, especially when it comes to clean air. We still have instances of colleagues of ours smoking in the premises to the detriment of their staff. I digress as I said, but this is also a women’s issue and a humanitarian issue that I could not resist to bring to the attention of the Body.


In conclusion, Mr. President, as we continue to celebrate National Breastfeeding Awareness Month this entire August, I wish to assert the importance of increasing and sustaining the promotion of breastfeeding, especially in working towards the MDG target date next year, and even beyond the post-2015 agenda. I also take this opportunity to call on government offices and private establishments to ensure compliance with RA 10028, by providing a lactation room in the workplace and public places frequented by mothers. I also call on health professionals to promote breastfeeding. We still continue to receive reports of doctors who do not promote breastfeeding contrary to the requirements of the law. Lastly, I call on my colleagues to support our efforts to further promote a breastfeeding culture, to be vigilant about legislation pushed by some groups in the guise of promoting nutrition, which in fact are meant to dilute existing breastfeeding policies and laws.

In the end, who can argue that our wealth is our children? But to leave their future to chance would be negligent on our part. We must support a breastfeeding culture.

Thank you. #

[5] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[11] ibid.
[13] 2013. UNICEF State of World Children.
[14] 2013. Food and Nutrition Research Institute, DOST.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] World Health Organization.
[20] Ibid.

Sen. Pia Cayetano delivering her privilege speech on Monday's session (August 11, 2014)

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