Breast milk, indigenous food: A mother’s recipe for healthy children
Today is Mother’s Day, and as a Filipino mother of two girls, and advocate of breastfeeding, it is a great opportunity to share our recipe to ensure our children’s’ healthy development: breast milk and fresh, indigenous, seasonal food that doesn’t contain genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.
In the past few months, there’s been news about the impending commercialization of GE ‘Golden’ rice: a genetically engineered rice aimed at producing beta carotene and enhancing Vitamin A levels amongst deficient children and mothers.
GE ‘Golden’ rice is touted by its proponents and supporters to be the solution to vitamin A deficiency (VAD), especially in developing countries.
However, VAD should not be an issue in a food-rich and biologically diverse country like the Philippines. To start with, during the first 6 months of a baby’s life, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) states that breastfeeding can provide for 100% of a child’s nutritional needs.
Breast milk is health food with love
Between 6 and 12 months, a child gets a half or more their nutritional needs from breast milk. In the second year of life, the child gets up to one-third of their nutritional needs from breast milk.
For example, I breastfed my daughter until she was 4 years old. Breast milk is food, nutrition, medicine, economics, ecology and love.
In our experience at ARUGAAN – an NGO which protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding – children breastfed by biological or surrogate mothers visibly benefit in terms of health and well-being, both in the short- and long-term.
Sometimes, the difference between infant formula and breast milk can mean life or death for a child prone to diseases and living in poor conditions.
It is also important to complement breastfeeding with healthy food. Breast milk can be supplemented as the child develops with nutritious fruits rich in beta-carotene (the precursor of vitamin A) like mangoes, papaya, sweet camote, or moringa leaves, indigenous to the Philippines, which are 4 times richer in beta-carotene than carrots.
Ironically, all these crops are part of the rich and biologically diverse agriculture landscape in the Philippines.
Food in season
We at ARUGAAN actively promote this combination of breastfeeding and healthy food everyday at our crèche in Manila. At our crèche, we enrol children from 2 months to 3 years of age, and we feed them with breast milk for as long as possible.
Working mothers leave their expressed breast milk at the crèche and most of our caregivers are also wet nurses. We also prepare dishes, blending the most vitamin-rich ingredients such as squash, sweet potatoes, moringa leaves, gourd etc. All made with love.
We buy food in season because we believe that Mother Nature provides us with fruits and vegetables when our bodies most need them: mangoes in April, avocadoes in June, and lemons/calamondin in September.
We also ensure to follow the teachings of our forefathers and ancestors who, throughout the centuries, developed natural and balanced diets to fulfill our nutritional needs.
GE food like Golden rice is simply unnecessary in the Philippines’ context of natural food diversity. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, but only pass on our ancestors’ knowledge to future generations.
Breastfeeding is a 'human right'
In our opinion, the real and long-term solution to the nutrition deficiency problem in the Philippines is to promote breastfeeding across the country. We consider it a human right.
We also believe that breast milk combined with the natural food our country has to offer can provide for the nutrition of mothers, infants, and young children.
Mothers and women are empowered by teaching them how to prepare affordable indigenous food to nourish their families. If you give mothers a plate, no child will go hungry. – Rappler.com
Velvet Escario Roxas is the Deputy Executive Director at ARUGAAN Toddler Centre, a crèche in Quezon City, Metro Manila. She is the mother of J. Hye and Vo’Gel and husband to Adam. She lives in Quezon City.\
ARUGAAN which means ‘to fully nurture with lifetime commitment’ in Filipino, is a NGO based in the Philippines, which protects, promotes and support breastfeeding and maternal nutrition.