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Monday, February 25, 2013

Superfood - The Philippine experience

Last week, Save the Children released their Breastfeeding Report entitled Superfood for Babies.  What made this report very interesting was that it included updates from the recent battles over the Monster Bill.  The report also emphasized on how overcoming breastfeeding barriers will save lives of children.

The report identifies 4 categories of breastfeeding barriers, namely: community cultural pressure, health worker shortage, lack of maternity legislation and the big business barrier.

Recently, I shared a photo of a mom who breastfed in the toilet because she was uncomfortable to breastfeed in public.  There was also no breastfeeding station or bench where she could comfortably nurse her baby.  Aside from community barriers, more common would be family pressure.  Filipino families are closely-knit and several new families live with their in laws.  Most of our parents were born during the time when formula marketing was most prevalent.  Hence, they grew up with the thought that formula milk is best.    Thus, I truly believe that breastfeeding seminars should properly be addressed to the people surrounding the breastfeeding mother.  Save the Children's blog summarizes it well:
The real scandal is not breastfeeding late, but that too many moms don't get the support needed to breastfeed early -- or to keep breastfeeding, should they want to.

Our children's pediatricians also "believe" this fact.  Actually, I do think they know that breastfeeding is best.  But since they can't properly explain it to their patients, they would rather prescribe formula - precise and has a huge marketing budget, plus perks!  Breastfeeding does not get much mileage in medical school.  A lot of pediatricians promote themselves to be breastfeeding friendly but at the first sign of trouble, immediately prescribe formula.  So do your research well!

The report also includes health worker shortage as a breastfeeding barrier.  However, I believe it is more than that - it is COMPETENT and KNOWLEDGEABLE health workers.  Again, because of the huge budgets of formula milk companies, there are health workers who have been corrupted to the "dark side".  Watch the film Formula for Disaster to know what I am talking about.  This film was made by UNICEF back in 2007 but still holds true today.  Will be posting more about this soon.  This is why the role of mom peer counselors are even more important.  I am definitely happy that this year's theme for World Breastfeeding Week focuses on mom peer counselors.

The third barrier identified is the lack of maternity legislation.  Did you know that the international minimum set by the International Labor Organization for maternity leaves is 14 weeks, with at least 2/3 pay?  A far cry from the 8-9 weeks maternity leave (60 days) granted by our Philippine laws.   Further, if you're lucky, your employer will pay your salary while on leave.  But Filipino working women, the maximum you can get from your SSS contributions is P30,000 for the 60 days you are away - and that is only if you fall under the highest bracket.

Meanwhile, while we do have Republic Act No. 10028, it has been poorly implemented. I have yet to see a company with a workplace lactation policy (ours is still pending).  Just recently, a reader emailed me.  She used to be connected with Convergys - which does not have a lactation room or policy.  Since Convergys refused to provide her with breastfeeding breaks, she had to pump during her lunch break, missing her meals.  She ended up getting sick and lost her job.

I have also been receiving emails from readers who tell me that their employers are hesitant about implementing a breastfeeding break.  I remind them that having a lactation break is part of labor standards.  In fact, DOLE has issued guidelines to employers on how to set-up a workplace lactation policy.  Plus, if you are employed in a call center and work at night, one of the mandatory facilities that your employer must provide is a lactation station.

Finally, the most difficult barrier to contend with would be the big business barrier.  The tentacles of the milk formula companies are wide reaching.  Despite prohibition by law, they are able to participate in policy making bodies.  Remember my 3-part post about the experiences of Dr. Lei during her ComVal mission? I've been trying to get it published to reach a wider audience, to no avail.  We all know how much money these milk companies throw into advertising and how advertising is the lifeblood of print media. Hence, I'm actually not surprised .

Aside from coming up with the Breastfeeding Report, Save the Children also worked with celebrities who visited countries where formula milk advertising is prevalent.  The Philippines was visited by Myleene Klass who shared her first hand account of the perils of formula milk:
Many families in the Philippines throw themselves into debt buying formula milk. Mums believe they’re doing the right thing as they don’t believe their breast milk provides their children with the nutrients they need due to their own poor diet. So they use formula purely because they think it’s their only option. 
Of course, milk companies would not want to be left behind and immediately published their own responses to the Breastfeeding Report.  In their response, IPNAP harps upon the recent FNRI study where breastfeeding rates have increased (guess who sponsored the study?) and the passage of RA10028.  Yet, they are silent about their moves to dilute to the stringent Philippine Milk Code.

Have you read the report?  Please do and share the report or this post!

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