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Richelle Sy-Kho

Milk battles

August 31, 2012 3:45pm
A few weeks ago, during the height of the habagat rains, I was greatly disturbed by a story which came out in the news.  
 
A mother in one of the many evacuation centers accidentally fed her child gas instead of milk. Because it was dark, she mistook the bottle of gas for water and used it to mix her child’s formula milk. 
 
Good thing the child just got sick, but eventually recovered after being taken to the hospital.
 
The fact that this happened in August, which is World Breastfeeding Month, is kind of ironic. But then again, this incident merely underscores the need to further educate mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding.  
 
In a country where more than half of the population live below the poverty line, it is sad to note that a lot of mothers still choose to give their babies formula milk, despite its prohibitive costs. Those who can’t afford formula resort to giving evaporated milk with water, or even sugar with water. 
 
But then again, even well-off and better-educated mothers don’t necessarily breastfeed their children exclusively.
 
Statistics from UNICEF show that only 54 percent of babies have an early initiation to breastfeeding, and only 34 percent of children in the Philippines are exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
 
Moreover, the 2003 National Demographic and Health Survey of the National Statistics Office found out that out of almost 7 million children (below 5 years old), 87 percent were ever breastfed. This figure however includes infants whose breastfeeding may have lasted for only one hour, one day, or one week only.
 
In fact, nearly 3.4 million children (49%) were given liquid or food other than breast milk within three days after being born. And for children below 3 years old at the time of the survey, barely 6 percent were exclusively breastfed. 
 
Although 80 percent of children started breastfeeding within one day of birth, 54 percent were also given other liquids aside from breast milk.
 
The study also found out that most mothers did not breastfeed their children because she does not have enough milk (31%); she is working (17%); her nipples/breasts ache  (17%); her child does not want to breastfeed (11%); her child is sick (11%); or she is sick (9%). 
 
These statistics are admittedly disturbing. And while I readily advocate breastfeeding, I could also understand why some mothers choose not to breastfeed.
 
I’ve met so many mothers, some of them my friends, who initially tried to breastfeed their babies. But because the milk didn’t come in sooner, or there wasn’t enough milk and their baby was crying all the time, they just gave in and fed their babies formula milk so the baby wouldn’t go hungry.
 
Some of them didn’t have enough moral support from their husbands and other family members to encourage them to keep on nursing.
 
Plus, the fact that formula milk for infants is readily available to anyone makes this decision a lot easier to make for mothers.

I should know. I did that with my first child. I always had a can of formula milk ready in case I didn’t have enough milk. That time, I preferred to think of it as an insurance or back-up.
 
And when mothers go back to work after the two-month maternity leave is over, sustaining breastfeeding becomes harder. After all, not all companies and work places have lactation rooms or clean rooms where mothers can pump and store their expressed breast milk. 
 
Right now, the Revised Milk Code encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies from birth up to 36 months of age. This is why formula milk for infants have a disclaimer saying “Breastmilk is still best for babies up to 2 years.” This is also the reason why milk companies have stopped advertising milk for children under two years.
 
But all this stands to change once a new breastfeeding bill is approved.
 
Breastfeeding advocates all over the country are denouncing the proposed House Bill entitled “An Act Promoting A Comprehensive Program on Breastfeeding Practices and Regulating The Trade, Marketing and Promotions of Certain Foods for Infants and Young Children.”
 
The proposed House Bill is a substitution of House Bills No. 3396, 3525, 3527, 3537, as approved by the Technical Working Group held on July 2, 2012.
 
The consolidated bill includes provisions authored by Reps. Magtanggol T. Gunigundo I, Josephine Veronique R. Lacson-Noel, Lani Mercado-Revilla, Lucy Torres-Gomez, and Rufus Rodriguez.
 
It is also called the “Breastfeeding Promotion and Infant Formula Regulation Act” for short.
 
Breastfeeding advocates however, call it the Monster Bill.
 
In their media release, the Save the Babies Coalition believes that the true intent of the Breastfeeding Promotion and Infant Formula Regulation Act is to water down the existing Milk Code. 
 
In the proposed House Bill, milk companies will be allowed to advertise their products intended for children over six months; conduct promotion on breastfeeding; give information, education, and communication materials about breastfeeding; place health and nutritional claims for their products; and donate infant formula during times of disaster, calamities, and emergency cases.
 
All those provisions are prohibited under the Milk Code, says its lead convenor, Innes Fernandez.
 
As a breastfeeding mother, I too am alarmed by the Monster Bill. If ever it does get approved, milk companies will once again be able advertise the so-called health benefits of their infant formulas. 
 
I can still remember a few years ago, when milk brands trumpeted the nutrients found in their milk, about how ARA and DHA are added to make babies more smart and gifted. 
 
If this happens, more and more mothers will not breastfeed anymore and just choose formula. After all, who wouldn’t want their children to be smart and gifted?
 
As of the moment, the so-called Monster Bill is still at the committee level in Congress.  Breastfeeding advocates hope to nip it in the bud, and prevent it from reaching the plenary level and gaining more support.
 
I sure hope they succeed in killing this Bill.
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