Saturday, June 9, 2012

Breastfeeding Disempowerment in Disguise

Monday started with my insides in a knot. Fellow breastfeeding advocates admitted to feeling as anxious as I was over a draft House Bill  entitled “An Act Promoting a Comprehensive Program on Breastfeeding Practices and Regulating the Trade, Marketing and Promotions of Certain foods for infants and Children.”

At first glance, it does appear pro-breastfeeding, doesn't it? It does appear as if they had the babies' well-being in mind, right?
Unfortunately, this draft bill is just a fancy way of really saying... "allow milk companies to promote their products with impunity."

Read articles that have already discussed some of the things the bill hopes to accomplish against breastfeeding:
An Alarming House Bill
A New (Anti) Breastfeeding Bill

How about we revisit some truths?
1) Breastfeeding is not just best for babies  but also best for women.
There are enough studies to back up the claims on the benefits of breastfeeding to babies, because breast milk  provides nourishment in the right amounts and in biodigestible form but it also provides good bacteria and antibodies from the mother. And then there are the effects on the mother too, like lactation amenorrhea and reduced osteoporosis and cancer risks.

2) Breastfeeding saves lives.
Did you know that when malnourished babies are brought to Bantay Bata, Ms. Gina Lopez hires wet nurses so these babies will surely thrive and survive? Sure, these babies may gain weight with just milk formula, but the act of being held and pacified by a heart beat as well as being given antibodies to fight common illnesses are what allows them to thrive.

3) Breastfeeding saves lives in emergency situations
Celeb mom Gladys Reyes has woefully went on to promote powdered milk, but she thanked God she was breastfeeding when she and her family were trapped in the second floor of their home for many hours during Ondoy... contrast that with other moms trapped on rooftops who were formula-feeding who were crying because they couldn't feed their babies.

And then there is the fact that typhoons displace thousands of families in the country yearly. These people end up living in shelters with not enough food, water, ventilation and disposal systems which allows the shelters to be breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria. Diarrhea is always a problem in these shelters, which is why the Department of Health always appeals to the mothers to continue breastfeeding so that there would be one less baby to worry about.

3) Breastfeeding is free, formula is not.
We may spend on pumps or nursing covers initially but it will still not be as much as you'd spend on formula... and when you start with formula, chances are, you'll be offering powdered milk for many years. The middle class family may spend an average of P4,000 for milk formula (how much more if your infant is sensitive and was prescribed the really expensive ones?), some of which would have to be thrown out if not consumed within a specified time (unless you want to invite stomach troubles for your child). P4,000 for 12 months is P48,000... enough to cover 1-2 years worth of vaccines or some child's tuition.

Imagine the cost, not just financial, to a typical Filipino family when most of their money goes to the purchase of milk instead of food for the entire family, or allowance for the school-aged kids. Imagine how dangerous it would be for the babies of poor parents who will water down their formula (water intoxication may cause seizures) or feed them milk substitutes like evaporated milk or rice water?

4) Milk formula is not a sterile product.
Milk formula, as well as most powdered and liquid milk, is  processed food. Not only is it made from hormone-raised cow's milk, there are also issues in the manufacturing, containing and storing processes that it goes through. It also requires sterile water, equipment and the right formulation, otherwise it can be toxic.

5) Due to some technicalities in the packaging that can be circumvented by milk companies, people often think they are buying milk that came from the US, Australia, etc when milk sold in the Philippines is largely supplied by China. Think about it, do you honestly think New Zealand can supply the world with milk? New Zealand can supply Kiwis with milk, but not the world. European countries can supply their milk demands, but not the world's. The USA can probably supply their own demands, but again, not the world's. And most countries in Southeast Asia cannot really produce milk in large quantities because of the tropical climate that affect a cow's milk production.

6) Breastfeeding doesn't pay.
Sure, there are many mompreneurs now selling breastfeeding paraphernalia and accessories but no one is earning enough to fund TV ads, billboards and celebrity endorsers. Milk companies, however, can freely dangle millions to donate something (in exchange for "Sponsored By" banners) or sponsor events. After all, milk companies generate an income of around P42 billion in our country (because they have effectively created a culture of formula milk dependency well into childhood among Filipinos, when formula is really only prescribed by the American Academy of Pediatrics for babies 1 year and below).

Milk companies are estimated to spend some P2 billion to employ some 3,000 Filipinos and spend another P2 billion for marketing, which includes advertisements, freebies, incentives offered to doctors by Med Reps and other varied ways of propaganda. These various ways to promote their products (and undermine breastfeeding) are what fueled boycotts of milk companies around the world, since breastfeeding cannot possibly compete with free vaccines, notebooks, shirts and what-not distributed where they are hard to catch and monitor... in our case, community health centers in far-flung barrios.

7) It pays to breastfeed, however.
Breastfeeding provides a baby optimum nutrition. Breastfed babies also report fewer and/or milder ilnesses which translate to savings in medical care and productivity (since a working Mom may be absent fewer times). Breastfeeding also protects from a lot of childhood ilnesses which result in 16,000 deaths every year for the Philippines.

Even if we assume that the 3,000 milk company employees in the country are all a family of 5, that's only about 15,000 people directly benefitting from the milk trade. But is their well-being more important than the 16,000 lives we lose every year, and who knows how many families driven to greater malnutrition and poverty from dependence on milk formula? And if we're to take the reasoning that milk companies do not just employ people but also move the economy by employing the services of ad agencies, printers, etc... should we also then be thankful that they are also driving patients to doctors, dead babies to funeral homes, shoppers to buy mineral/distilled water and reducing the population by 16,000 yearly?

8) Mothers are still fighting to breastfeed.
With the Milk Code and the breastfeeding campaigns by the DOH, as well as handy information from books, the internet and support groups on breastfeeding... Filipino mothers still have to fight and take a stand to breastfeed. We still have to defend our choice to our husbands, parents, friends, doctors and employers. We are still made to feel ashamed if we do it in public.  We still have to convince ourselves that our bodies can deliver the milk as naturally as it delivered our child. We still have to combat a lot of myths and there is still a lot of information about breatfeeding tha isn't common knowledge. Why, even doctors are quick to say that after a year, our milk is no good for babies anymore.

That is still the scenario now... so imagine how worse it will be when milk companies can lure the Filipino's psyche into thinking that all the plus, plus they add to their milk makes it the best thing to give to our babies? Imagine how harder it will be to raise children eating right when a dependency on the bottle is cultivated? Imagine how many diabetics that will create in the short and long-term? Imagine how much that will deplete family resources for the marginalized?

I have said it often... I advocate breastfeeding for the poor. Moms like me can afford E.R. trips and sterile water and dental checkups. But not the poor. And unfortunately for the Philippines, the poor is at least 50% of the population. Even middle-income families are better off using their money elsewhere, instead of filling landfills with cans.

Let's all take a stand for those who seldom get to be heard. Do not support this consolidated bill and let your representatives know that you, their voting public, are against it.


My fellow LATCH peer counselor and mom blogger has also already blogged lengthily on this attempt to water down the Milk Code.


Jenny @ Chronicles of A Nursing Mom said...

great post Mec!! thanks for linking up!

Alex said...

Thank you! This is great! I would like to know where you got your statistics in number 7. I plan to share this to a group of mom and give you credit but just in case a question comes up I would like to be able to answer it on the spot