ILOILO, Philippines – Vicky Mahinay is a 35-year-old mother from Estancia, Iloilo, a municipality greatly damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013. At that time, she was a month pregnant with her 6th child.
Months later, she gave birth to a baby girl.
“I have 6 children and none of them are malnourished,” she declared. Holding her two-month old child in her arms, she smiled as she proudly shared how she practices exclusive breastfeeding.
In the aftermath of a disaster like Typhoon Yolanda, malnutrition rates among infants usually rise; but health advocates say, breastfeeding can counter this.
“Breastmilk is the best food during disasters for children 0-6 months and even up to two years old,” said Dr Maria Socorro Quinon, Iloilo Provincial Health Office (PHO) assistant chief. (READ: What’s the PH Milk Code?)
The month of August celebrates the National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and the World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) highlights the importance of promoting the value of breastfeeding globally, nationally, and at the community level.
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) meanwhile, announced as the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week as “Breastfeeding: A winning goal for Life.”
The theme affirmed the significance of reducing child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015 as targeted by the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Children under 5
As of 2011, an estimated 6.9 million children under 5 years old died from mostly preventable diseases, the 2013 MDG report revealed. This meant 19,000 deaths per day.
It also reported that the growing proportion of child deaths occur around the time of birth, concluding that child survival efforts must focus on the first month of life.
Breastfed children have at least 6 times greater chance of survival during their early months than non-breastfed children, according to a 2008 report from Lancet, a renowned medical journal.
Its 2013 report also showed that optimum breastfeeding may prevent an estimated 800,000 deaths annually among children under 5. This is equivalent to around 13% of the total child deaths among developing nations.
With this, the World Health Organization and Unicef recommended the initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour after birth and exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.
Pinoy moms celebrate
In the Philippines, only 27% of children aged 6 to 35 months were exclusively breastfed, the 2011 Family Health Survey (FHS) revealed.
The FHS also reported that 22 for every 1,000 live births die before reaching their first birthday, and 30 out 1,000 children die before turning 5. Infant mortality and under-5 mortality are lower in urban areas than in rural areas
In celebration of the World Breastfeeding Week, the Province of Iloilo took part in a simultaneous breastfeeding event on Saturday, August 2, across 6 municipalities in the 5th district of Iloilo.
Through its PHO, as headed by Dr Patricia Grace Trabado, the Iloilo province joined “Hakab Na! 2014,” a simultaneous breastfeeding event which aims to promote the importance of supporting breastfeeding mothers.
The event was launched by the Facebook group “Breastfeeding Pinays,” in partnership with the Philippine Army-Headquarters and Headquarters Support Group (HHSG). Aside from Iloilo, it was also held in Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Bacolod.
Hakab Na! 2014 was held in coordination with the “Global Big Latch On,” an international movement which began New Zealand.
This was Iloilo’s first time to join the event, with a total of 1,387 mothers from the municipalities of Sara, Concepcion, Batad, Balasan, Estancia and Carles. It was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Unicef, Visayas Health, Save the Children, Action Against Hunger International, Child Fund, and the Municipal and Rural Health Units.
Unicef identified a wide range of benefits of breastfeeding:
- Breast milk provides all of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals an infant needs for growth for the first 6 months, and no other liquids or food are needed
- Breast milk carries antibodies from the mother that help combat disease
- The act of breastfeeding stimulates proper growth of the mouth and jaw, and secretion of hormones for digestion and satiety
- Breastfeeding creates a special bond between mother and baby and has positive outcomes in terms of stimulation, behavior, speech, sense of wellbeing and security and how the child relates to other people
- Breastfeeding lowers the risk of chronic conditions later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, childhood asthma, and childhood leukemia
WABW called attention to the importance of stepping up actions to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding as a key intervention in the MDGs and in the post-2015 era.
Change in social practices by working primarily with communities and families can encourage more mothers to practice breastfeeding, Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said in a press statement.
Lake also suggested the development of a more integrated approach in increasing the effectiveness of breastfeeding promotion through collaboration of different health and development sectors.
2015 is close yet the interventions and efforts to make breastfeeding a worldwide priority should not stop at the mere attainment of the MDGs, advocates stressed. It should rather extend into raising awareness to more people as there will always be mothers and there will always be children who need breastfeeding.
Local communities are a good place to start. – Rappler.com
Adrienne Villaruel was a Rappler intern. She is studying Media and Communications at the University of the Philippines Visayas.