The Changing Social Climate of Breastfeeding in the Philippines

For the longest time, people believed that formula was superior to breastmilk. Up until a few years ago, there were still a myriad advertisements plastered all over television and magazines claiming that this or that brand can make babies healthier or smarter.

“Pag Bibo, Panalo!”

“Nurture the Gift.”

“Nurture the Exceptional.”

Most parents gave in to the hype because they didn’t know any better, and it didn’t help that hospitals weren’t breastfeeding-friendly at all (no consistent rooming-in policy and they even gave samples of formula to families being discharged). My own parents were victims of this propaganda almost 4 decades ago; my mother had no idea how to breastfeed me, so after just 3 days of trying, she gave up and switched me to the leading brand at the time. I don’t know what the effect on me was, but as a person with severe asthma, I sometimes wonder if being breastfed would have attenuated my allergic tendencies.

These days however, a lot more studies on the benefits of lactation are being done, and all that information is readily available on the internet. For the past 10 years, the tide has slowly but steadily turned, and thankfully, the Philippine government has caught on. In 2009, Republic Act. 10028 was promulgated, defined as:

“AN ACT EXPANDING THE PROMOTION OF BREASTFEEDING, AMENDING FOR THE PURPOSE REPUBLIC ACT NO. 7600, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS “AN ACT PROVIDING INCENTIVES TO ALL GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE HEALTH INSTITUTIONS WITH ROOMING-IN AND BREASTFEEDING PRACTICES AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”

Basically, this act promotes the following:

  1. Rooming-in as a national policy.
  2. The protection of working women by providing safe and healthful working conditions that promote their maternal functions even in the workplace.
  3. The provision of facilities for breastmilk collection and storage for health institutions.
  4. The establishment of lactation stations in all health and non-health facilities, establishments or institutions.
  5. The establishment of lactation breaks for nursing employees in addition to the regular time-off for meals in order to breastfeed or express milk.
  6. Continuing education, re-education and training of health workers and health Institutions.
  7. Information dissemination and educational programs of pregnant women and women of reproductive age regarding breastfeeding.
  8. Integration of breastfeeding education in the curricula.
  9. The institution of August as Breastfeeding Awareness Month.

Image by EPA

Most hospitals nowadays are breastfeeding-friendly, and some even ban bottles and formula outright. Last year, I visited a QC hospital with my 1-year-old, and I brought my Haakaa pump and some empty storage bottles along just in case my baby decided to nurse while we were there. The guard checked my insulated bag, and upon seeing the bottles, almost stopped me from going in. I had to assure him that I was, in fact, breastfeeding–“Sir, pang storage lang yan, tingnan mo, walang nipples!”–before he would let me in.

Babies from uncomplicated deliveries are also roomed-in immediately, and mothers are given basic tips by the nurses on how to breastfeed. I gave birth in a well-known hospital in QC, and in all 3 deliveries, I was visited several times by lactation consultants. By the second baby, I already knew what to do, but it was still reassuring to know that this was routine for all births.

It’s also heartening that most malls and shopping centers already have decent nursing stations. Gone are the days when I was forced to pump in comfort rooms or changing rooms. The best ones have soft lighting, sinks, soap or hand sanitizers, and individual couches with curtains for privacy. One of my most frequented ones is in SM Cubao, which has all of the above. Robinson’s Magnolia’s nursing station is also adequate, although not as private.

Perhaps the biggest change has been in the attitude of ordinary people, especially the elderly. It has become commonplace to see breastfeeding mothers anywhere and everywhere, and no one bats an eyelash. I used to pump every 2 hours round the clock for my firstborn, and people–especially my relatives–kept asking me why I did it when it would be so much easier to switch to formula. They couldn’t understand why I invested so much time, effort, and money to keep it up for as long as possible, even if it meant limiting my activities and social life. Now, six years later, my full freezer chest is a source of pride to my family. No one rolls his eyes anymore when I say that I have to pump or breastfeed, even in the middle of a get-together. And when my sister-in-law asked for help feeding my niece, my Mom could be heard proudly saying that the baby was getting fat on my breastmilk.

If there is one thing that is still lacking, it’s a basic knowledge of the hows and whys of breastfeeding for indigent mothers who can’t understand English very well or those who can’t afford lactation consultants. I am part of a local breastfeeding group, and I often encounter posts promoting irrational beliefs or “mga pamahiin”. It would be helpful if Barangay centers regularly held free seminars or classes about lactation for pregnant women so that they would know what to expect.

Much has been accomplished in this area, but much still needs to be done. What other things can we do to promote breastfeeding in our country?

 

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