New Internationalist

Breast must remain best


A Dumagat woman breastfeeds her six-month-old baby while waiting for relief goods.
Photo: Angelica Carballo, reproduced with permission.

The gains achieved by breastfeeding advocates in the Philippines may be wiped out as a proposed bill threatens to amend an existing law, hailed internationally, that supports breastfeeding in the country.

The Milk Code of the Philippines encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies from brith to 36 months.

According to Filipino lawyer Rita Jimeno, in an article on the Female Network, the code prohibits advertising practices that entice mothers to choose artificial milk products over their own breast milk.

But there are now proposals in Congress to reduce the Milk Code’s reach. Furthermore, the draft legislation lifts the restriction on donations of artificial milk products in emergency situations which could encourage mothers away from breastfeeding. Even during such difficult times, it has been proven that breast milk is a better choice.

In a tropical country like the Philippines torrential rains and heavy flooding are a daily occurrence during the rainy season. Calamity-stricken areas are sometimes difficult to reach because of heavy flooding and the supply of basic goods can be disrupted.

Breast milk has saved millions of babies caught up in disasters through the years.

In the far-flung community of Puray, Rizal, in the east of the Philippines, breast milk kept babies strong and healthy even as monsoon rains battered the remote area, and other parts of the country, earlier this month.

The community, explains Filipina journalist Angelica Carballo, in an article on Interaksyon.com, had been isolated from the main towns as a landslide blocked roads leading to Puray.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) congratulated the Philippine government earlier this month for improvements in breastfeeding rates in the country. Citing figures released by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), they said that exclusive breastfeeding rates in the Philippines have risen to 47 per cent in 2011 from 36 per cent in 2008.

‘The initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of delivery has increased from 32 percent in 2008 to 52 percent in 2011,’ according to their joint statement.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement in the area of exclusive breastfeeding which is encouraged by advocates for the first six months of a baby’s life as the sole source of nutrients. However, the government sponsored 2011 Family Health Survey showed that in some areas of the Philippines, exclusive breastfeeding rates are as low as 27 per cent.

WHO representative in the Philippines, Dr. Soe Nyunt-U, says that the recent increase in breastfeeding rates puts the country a step closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals on child health: ‘Breastfeeding can save the lives of both mothers and babies, this is one of the important interventions to reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.’

Various sectors such as non-government organizations, political leaders and the media are helping the government sustain the improvements in breastfeeding. However, all these gains are now at risk thanks to intense lobbying by formula milk manufacturers who are gaining ground in Congress.

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