PURSUANT to Section 16 of Republic Act No. 10028, which is otherwise known as the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009, the month of August is dubbed as the Breastfeeding Awareness Month. The goal of this is to raise awareness on the importance of and to further promote breastfeeding in the Philippines.
Section 2 of RA 7600, which is also known as the Rooming-in and Breastfeeding Act of 1992 states that “breastfeeding has distinct advantages which benefit the infant and the mother, including the hospital and the country that adopt its practice. It is the first preventive health measure that can be given to the child at birth.”
As such it enhances not only the maternal and child bond but also the bond between the family and the newborn as well.
RA 7600 believes that the practice of breastfeeding could save the country valuable foreign exchange that may otherwise be used for milk importation.
It punctuates its declaration of policy by articulating the State shall promote and encourage breastfeeding and provide the specific measures that would present opportunities for mothers to continue expressing their milk and/or breastfeeding their infant or young child.
According to the World Health Organization, breast milk is the right food for newborns and infants as it is safe and has all the nutrients and antibodies needed for a newborn’s or infant’s healthy development and protection from childhood illnesses.
It emphasized that breastfeeding has also been proven to reduce childhood morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases.
On the other hand, “early initiation of breastfeeding, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, appropriate complementary feeding and sustained breastfeeding for up to two years can prevent over 75% of deaths in early infancy and 37% of deaths in the second year” according to studies by United Nations Children's Fund in 2009.
“Studies also show that inappropriate feeding practices, including formula feeding, cause 19 percent of deaths of children under age five”, it maintains.
Breastfeeding likewise benefits the mother. The American Pediatric Society informs that benefits of breastfeeding to mothers include decreased post-partum blood loss, more rapid involution of the uterus, increased child spacing due to lactational amenorrhea, and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, breast cancer, and ovarian
According to the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS), breastfeeding is almost universal in the Philippines with 94 percent of children ever breastfed. This reflects a 6 percent increase within five years from the 2008 NDHS survey which had showed 88 percent only of children ever breastfed.
The “Essential Intrapartum and Newborn Care guidelines”, a recent public health protocol in deliveries and immediate newborn care among primary care facilities recommend that breastfeeding be initiated as soon as possible due to the benefits of colostrum.
Surprisingly, only 49 percent or half of all children surveyed were breastfed within one hour as reported in 2013 NDHS. This actually represents a slight decrease from the 54 percent of children who had been breastfed within the first hour of life in 2008 NDHS.
The Executive Order 51 and its implementing rules and regulations forbid the use and promotion of prelacteals unless for medical purposes among all health facilities in the country. This is to ensure exclusive breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, the 2013 NDHS data tell otherwise: more than one-third or 36 percent of breastfed children were given prelacteal feed during the first three days of life.
Prelacteal feeds, or liquid and/or non-liquid feeds given to newborns before the mother’s milk begins to flow regularly, are discouraged, not only because they are less nutritious than breast milk but also because they are more susceptible to contamination.
Fortunately, the current statistics reflects a decrease in prelacteal feeding within the last five years as there was an alarming 55 percent of children who had received the said prelacteals as reported in the 2008 NDHS.
The writer is a medical professional and has been writing as a health columnist of this paper since 2008. He is an alumnus of Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan from Elementary to Graduate School. Currently he is a faculty member of the Medical Education Unit for the Doctor of Medicine Program of Southwestern University PHINMA, where he is likewise finishing his Master of Public Health.