Realizing Breastfeeding’s importance amidst COVID-19 pandemic
Perhaps, one of the learnings and realizations Filipino mothers could extract from the pandemic today, aside from the essence of healthy living and agriculture, is the great importance of breastfeeding.
In a third world country like ours, the Philippines, where money is scarce and where, even before this Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a large portion of the population is underprivileged, we could say that breastfeeding is the most practical way to ensure we can feed the infants and children.
You might have been encountering countless posts in social media of parents who are asking for milk formula donations as their sources of income had been limited due to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).
The good thing is we heartwarmingly see responses of more privileged people reaching out to them and extending sachets or boxes of milk formula that will last for a few days.
However, legally speaking, here in our country donating milk formula means breaking the law, particularly Executive Order 51 or the “Philippine Milk Code” that promotes breastfeeding and prohibits acts that encourage mothers to use substitutes.
This dilemma goes to show the immense need to step up the government’s and even the private advocates’ initiatives to encourage lactating and pregnant mothers to breastfeed.
Luckily, there are local government units like the town of Pagsanjan in the province of Laguna that consistently promote breastfeeding and support breastfeeding mothers even during these days while we are battling against an unseen enemy, the COVID-19.
The Community Health Team (CHT) Pagsanjan is a group of breastfeeding advocates under the Municipal Health Office (MHO) led by their Team Coordinator, Municipal Health Nurse Toni-Maree T. Rabago.
“Ang Community Health Team (CHT) Pagsanjan po ay ini-organisa mula noong 2016. Ang CHT po ay naka focus sa pagpapalaganap ng adbokasya para isulong ang pagpapasuso at ang kahalagahan nito. The same year po ay na-establish namin ang Pagsanjan Breastfeeding Station sa bayan ng Pagsanjan na nasa loob ng Pagsanjan RHU Building,” Rabago recounted.
(“The Community Health Team (CHT) Pagsanjan was organized in 2016. The CHT focuses on spreading the advocacy of promoting breastfeeding and its importance. The same year, we have established the Pagsanjan Breastfeeding Station in the town of Pagsanjan located in the Pagsanjan RHU Building.”)
Lactating mothers are free to comfortably use the breastfeeding station whenever they visit the Pagsanjan Rural Health Unit (RHU).
The CHT members undergone Basic Lactation Management Training conducted by the Provincial Nutrition Coordinator under the Department of Health (DOH), which equipped them in providing the right information about pregnancy and breastfeeding among the mothers in the locality.
“Nabibigyan din namin sila ng guidance and assistance kung nakakaranas sila ng mga Breastfeeding difficulties (We are also able to give them guidance and assistance whenever they experience difficulties in breastfeeding),” she said.
Even before the pandemic, the CHT Pagsanjan had been devotedly advocating on breastfeeding and had implemented various advocacy activities, programs and projects like information drives, donation drives, photo contests, orientations and the likes.
Advocating Breastfeeding amidst crisis
“We promote, protect, and support breastfeeding even in times of crisis,” Rabago firmly stated.
She said their team is tasked to continuously monitor donation drives through the directive of DOH provided in Advisory No. 2020-16 dated March 18, 2020.
They deliver Breastmilk door to door to babies in need especially during the ECQ, assist lactating mothers and their children, and provide them support by handing over nutritious food which is more sustainable rather than giving them donated milk formula.
She said implementing the provisions in the Philippine Milk Code is a big challenge to Breastfeeding Advocates like them because some people may not understand, get offended, and might throw a fit against what they are fighting for but they never stop.
“Sa mga Nanay na mahina ang gatas, kami ay umaagapay sa kanila at tumulong na palakasin ang kanilang gatas (We are assisting and helping to boost the breastmilk supply of breastfeeding mothers who have low supply of milk).”
Meanwhile, they encourage mothers who are mixed breastfeeding to continue breastfeeding which is more beneficial to their babies.
Even mothers who already stopped breastfeeding or is bottle-feeding their babies may still shift back to breastfeeding as long as they are willing to re-lactate.
“Sila ay tinutulungan namin ibalik ang paggagatas sa pamamagitan ng relactation session. Marami nang mga pagkakataon na ito ay nagtagumpay.
(We are helping them to produce breastmilk again through relactation sessions. There had been countless of instances that a mother was able to successfully relactate).”
She emphasized the important role of Breastfeeding in the health and growth of a child and that it benefits both the mother and the child.
“Alam namin na ito ay mahirap sa ibang mga nanay pero kami, ang mga Community Health Team ay handang tumulong at umalalay sa kanila lalo na sa kanilang mga pangangailangan
(We know that this is difficult for other mothers but we, the Community Health Team is willing to help and assist them especially with their needs).“
The breastmilk of a mother is the only milk with complete nutrition and anti-bodies that no other formula milk, even the most expensive ones, could replicate.
She also pointed out that in times of calamities and crises, breastmilk is the safest, cheapest and most nutritious food mothers could ever give their babies.
Through breastfeeding, she said, their babies will be protected from the risk of accumulating illnesses including COVID-19.
“Sa panahon po ngayon na tayo ay nasa ilalim ng ECQ, mas napatunayan po ang importansya ng pagpapasuso dahil hindi na nila kailangan lumabas ng bahay para bumili ng gatas, ligtas ang mag-ina, hindi mangangamba na magugutom ang anak na pinapasuso, kahit anong oras pwede pasusuhin ang anak, at kahit tumagal pa ang quarantine hindi kailangang mamroblema ang magpapasusong ina,” she stressed.
(“Now that we are under the ECQ, we have all the more proven the importance of breastfeeding because they no longer need to get outside their house to buy milk, the mother and child are safe, they will not fear that their breastfeeding baby will get hungry, the mother can feed her baby anytime, and even if the quarantine lasts longer it will not be a problem to a breastfeeding mother.”
It is economical because the parents will not need to buy milk even if the lockdown gets extended. Hence, the budget can be allotted for other needs.
It also lessens their risk of exposure to COVID-19 carriers because they would not need to leave their homes just to buy mineral water and milk formula, among others.
Moreover, it lessens the risk of an infant to other infection and diseases that may lead to mortality because breastmilk helps boost the immune system. Finally she pointed out another benefit, “Through breastfeeding, the mother and child can get to know each other day after day and can create special bonding moments together.”
Indeed, this pandemic had been teaching everyone diverse lessons and one of them is to learn to value the golden gift of God to mothers and their children, which is the breastmilk and the wonders of breastfeeding. (Joy Gabrido)