Quezon Province’s First 1000 Days program

 

 

FIRST 1000

 

In celebration of Breastfeeding Month last August, I visited Quezon Province, the first local government unit in the Philippines to develop and implement their own First 1,000 Days program for mothers and their babies. It was a special trip, not only because of this beautiful program for maternal and infant health, but because Quezon is also my dad’s home province. It felt like home to me.

 

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I will never get tired of views like this – endless rice paddies.

 

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Quezon to me is coconut country. These were the scenes I grew up with when we used to go on vacation there.

 

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At the municipality of San Antonio, we met new mothers who were breastfeeding their babies. They were participants of the province’s First 1000 Days program from the moment they knew they were pregnant. ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagalac

 

The First 100 Days program of UNICEF works with the notion that the right health and nutrition in the first 1,000 days builds the foundation for a child’s ability to grow, learn, and earn in the future. The first thousand days starts from conception, 9 months of a healthy pregnancy, the first six months of infancy with exclusive breastfeeding, and 6 months to 2 years old of healthy food complementing breast milk.

Children who get the right health and nutrition in their first 1000 days are:

  • 10 times more likely to overcome life-threatening diseases
  • more likely to complete 4.6 more grades of school
  • go on to earn up to 50% more in wages as adults
  • more likely to have healthier families as adults

 

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Along with UNICEF Deputy Representative Julia Rees, I learned about how the local government of Quezon has fully taken on the First 1,000 Days program to help babies get a better start in life. ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagalac

 

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New mothers breastfeeding their babies in Quezon Province. ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/C Gagalac

 

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Mothers read the “Mama Book”, a guide and logbook for mothers benefiting from Quezon Province’s First 1,000 Days program. Quezon is the first local government unit in the Philippines to develop and implement their own First 1,000 Days program for mothers and their babies. They also developed a program to encourage home gardens, to promote good nutrition. ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagalac

 

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We visited this expectant couple in their home. They were participants of the First 1000 Days program. ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagalac

 

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In order to qualify to be in the province’s Q1K program, they had to have a vegetable garden at home. With the help of the Quezon Province Department of Agriculture, they were able to successfully grow fruits and vegetables in their own yard. This encourages the family to eat real whole foods rather than processed food. I was very impressed by this. It is a lifestyle that I personally want to have at home. ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagalac

 

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UNICEF Philippines’ Julia Rees marveling over the patola harvest. ©UNICEF Philippines/ 2016/CGagalac

 

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The Q1K Mama Book has guidelines on how to have a healthy pregnancy, including recipes for nutritious whole foods that they can grow in their garden. It also emphasises the importance of exclusively breastfeeding the baby once she is born up to 6 months. From the sixth month onwards, mothers are encouraged to continue breastfeeding the baby and feeding them nutritious food, as opposed to processed cereals and packaged food.

 

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We also met a tricycle driver who actively supported Q1K by driving expectant mothers to the municipal health centre to get their regular health check ups. He has driven about six mothers to the health centre just in time for delivery. As an incentive, the provincial and local governments reward tricycle drivers with free rice whenever they drive a pregnant mom to the clinics. Here we see how different players in the community come together to support pregnant moms.  ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagala

 

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One of my favourite parts of every field visit is seeing and holding cute babies. Here, UNICEF Philippines’ Michelle Borromeo carries an adorable breastfed baby while another baby tries to get my attention. I was able to give her my undivided attention a few seconds after this snap.  ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagalac

 

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Grateful to the Province of Quezon and UNICEF Philippines for bringing me to Quezon to see a very inspiring and impressive program. I hope the rest of the country can come up with similar programs like Q1K. ©UNICEF Philippines/2016/CGagalac

 

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A week after our field visit to Quezon, the Governor David Suarez and his wife Rep Anna Suarez hosted a meeting with the UNICEF Nutrition team in Manila.

 

If you want to learn more about the First 1000 Days and how you can help in your own community, please click here.

 

 

Why we need to support breastfeeding

 

 

Last week I took a break from my life — work deadlines, mommy duties, activities in my daughters’ school — and went to Naga with UNICEF. Once in a while I leave everything behind, focus my attention on UNICEF programs. I get to tell stories from the field and try to make a difference for many Filipino children and mothers. We kicked off Breastfeeding Month with a trip to Naga City where UNICEF showed me the different private and public initiatives to promote breastfeeding support in the workplace. I also got to participate in a forum discussion at the House of Representatives. There would have been a Senate appearance as well, however it overlapped with my Naga trip.

Here is a short video from our trip, showing how important it is to support breastfeeding moms, especially in the workplace.

 

 

With UNICEF, I participate in activities that promote maternal health, breastfeeding and nutrition (See my previous UNICEF activities here.) I give my time and lend my voice to UNICEF because I feel like we are in this awful cycle of poor nutrition and poverty and it will get worse if we don’t do anything. We will be a nation of adults raised on instant noodles, supposedly-“fortified” powdered stuff, fake flavouring, with newborns fed formula milk. I’m not talking about a chi-chi organic lifestyle change – though I love organic weekend markets. I’m talking about going to the poorest and farthest provinces, and seeing families feed their kids these artificial things. I’ve seen children getting sick with diarrhoea because of contaminated water and dirty bottles because a poor mother would rather buy formula milk than feed her baby directly from her breast. In poor areas, diarrhoea can lead to death. My old driver used to borrow extra money so they could buy formula milk for their newborn, while I made heaven and earth move just so I could find a place to express my milk and bring it home to my baby. It just didn’t make sense.

I found an old post in 2008 where I quickly mentioned that I had a breast infection (mastitis). This was before I had met UNICEF and before they asked me to be their advocate. It shows how little I knew. I thought it was ok for hospitals to give glucose water in a cup. It’s not. And mommies, if you think you have mastitis, please see a doctor as soon as possible. Ask for an ultrasound if you think you have an infection.

Here are my tips for happy breastfeeding (from my 2008 post):

1. Get a pediatrician who advocates and believes in feeding from the breast. She will support you.
2. Ask for a lactation consultant at the hospital. You will need “instructions” in the beginning.
3. Tell the nursery NOT to give your baby formula milk or a bottle. If needed, they can CUP FEED your baby with glucose water. The baby will not starve (this applies to non-preemies). Edit: There is no need to give your baby glucose water. It is recommended that babies room in with their mothers in order to make breastfeeding easier from the moment of birth.
4. Read up on how to store milk or join breastfeeding clubs or forums online
5. Get a breast massage. It helps wonders. Your milk will flow like Niagara Falls.
6. Don’t get pressured into buying fancy electric breast pumps. You won’t know if you really need it until you are already breastfeeding. Wait a few weeks.

Since 2011, UNICEF has been supporting the Department of Health, local government units, and labor sector partners in the formal and informal economies to implement the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 (RA 10028) and The Milk Code or Executive Order 51. These laws mandate that workplaces should be given an environment where breastfeeding moms are supported and empowered. This means, they should be given a space and be allowed paid breaks in order to breastfeed or express milk. This is good, considering we have one of the shortest maternity leaves in the region — only 2 months. Though a lot of moms may want to continue breastfeeding their babies even when they return to work, some of them just give up. Only 34% of children aged 0-6 monhts are exclusively breastfed in the Philippines.

 

Women need a supportive environment so they would continue to breastfeed. This isn’t just a beautiful mommy-baby bond. If all companies and establishments provided a supportive and comfortable environment for breastfeeding, babies will be healthier, moms will have less guilt about going back to work and they will be more productive. We will raise children who will more likely be able to finish their education and get better jobs. In the Philippines, only 34% of women exclusively breastfeed their babies up to 6 months. And the number drops significantly after the 6th month.

 

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When I was still breastfeeding my babies, there were no mommy-baby lounges in malls. So I would rely on fitting rooms in stores. K&Company is like family to me. I would spend a few minutes breastfeeding the babies in their beautiful fitting room. Sometimes, I would find myself overflowing and would just settle for a bathroom somewhere and pump. Now, most malls have lactation-friendly lounges, as they should.

 

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And since we have no family here in the Philippines (only one, my BIL who is a priest), I have no back-up or support system except for househelp and my husband. I brought my babies to work with me. Lucky for me, my working conditions then were very comfortable. This was me getting ready for a shoot at Sofitel. And that’s my little Stelly belly wrapped in one of my scarves.

 

I breastfed all three of my babies. I didn’t have a structured work environment, i.e. no office, so this meant I was able to express milk (manual pump) anytime and anywhere. I carried a cooler packed with ice gels. During this time, malls didn’t have lactation rooms yet. I had to find ways and places where I could pump. Unfortunately most the pumping happened in bathroom cubicles. I also did not have maternity leaves. When I gave birth to Lily, I shot a TV commercial for a beauty product 7 days after giving birth. And I had to shoot Urban Zone 10 days after giving birth. I remember that day – it was an interview with Cheese Escudero and I couldn’t wait to get home. During Stella’s time, I had about three weeks worth of video packages done in advance so I was able to stay home. But I had to shoot a beauty product for the body (body soap) five weeks after giving birth. That’s when I discovered Pilates. So you see, as moms, whether you go to the office or not… you just try to make it all work.

Here is a video of a lactating working mom. Let me know if you can relate.

 

I have gone to many parts of the Philippines as an advocate of UNICEF and in my previous life as a journalist and balikbayan traveler. I have seen babies with severe acute malnutrition in Maguindanao amidst conflict, families displaced by Typhoon Pablo in Davao Oriental, communities trying to get back on their feet in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan. Breastfeeding has the single largest potential impact on child mortality of any preventive intervention (i.e. vaccines, medicines). This means, if a newborn baby is given mother’s breastmilk in the first hour of life and only breastmilk until he/she is 6 months old, this baby will have a greater chance at survival and will be less likely to get sick. Now we have more evidence that exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 6 months and complementary feeding up to two years old, can help prevent stunting in children. Stunted children are more prone to death and disease, have lower educational attainment, and reduced productivity as adults. The Philippines is one of the ten countries in the world with the most number of stunted children — 1 in every 3 Filipino children under 5 years of age is stunted. That’s an estimated 3.4 million children. These may all seem like just numbers, but I’ve seen what it’s like in real life.

 

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At the Naga Water District, where it is a breastfreeding-friendly workplace.

 

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Meeting the mothers of Barangay Panicuason, Naga. Photo by UNICEF2015/ACDimatatac

 

I’m sharing photos of the trip from UNICEF’s gallery. All photos by UNICEF2015/ACDimatactac.

 

I saw the smallest little infants at the NICU. It was good to see a public hospital with a strong commitment to breastfeeding. They counsel mothers on how to express milk if their preemie baby is too small and still in the NICU.

I saw the smallest little infants at the NICU. It was good to see a public hospital with a strong commitment to breastfeeding. They counsel mothers on how to express milk if their preemie baby is too small and still in the NICU.

With the doctors of the NICU at the Bicol Medical Center.

With the doctors of the NICU at the Bicol Medical Center.

Bicol Medical Center.

Bicol Medical Center.

At the Bicol Medical Center.

At the Bicol Medical Center.

The doctors of Bicol Medical Center showing me their storage for pasteurized breastmilk at the Human Milk Bank.

The doctors of Bicol Medical Center showing me their storage for pasteurized breastmilk at the Human Milk Bank.

Bicol Medical Center's commitment to breastfeeding. They also have an impressive human milk bank.

Bicol Medical Center’s commitment to breastfeeding. They also have an impressive human milk bank.

The Bicol Medical Center's maternity ward.

The Bicol Medical Center’s maternity ward.

A preemie, newly discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit of Bicol Medical Center. All the babies in NICU are given mothers' breastmilk only.

A preemie, newly discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit of Bicol Medical Center. All the babies in NICU are given mothers’ breastmilk only.

At Barangay Concepcion in Naga, with volunteer peer counsellors. They go on house to house visits to help encourage and coach new moms to breastfeed.

At Barangay Concepcion in Naga, with volunteer peer counsellors. They go on house to house visits to help encourage and coach new moms to breastfeed.

A home visit at Barangay Concepcion, Naga City. Mothers are also encouraged to feed their babies/toddlers real, whole foods like pechay, upo, papaya, malunggay, carrots, potatoes, banana, and other fruits and vegetables easily found in local markets or grown in backyards.

A home visit at Barangay Concepcion, Naga City. Mothers are also encouraged to feed their babies/toddlers real, whole foods like pechay, upo, papaya, malunggay, carrots, potatoes, banana, and other fruits and vegetables easily found in local markets or grown in backyards.

A volunteer peer counsellor visits a new mother in Barangay Concepcion. Mothers need a lot of support when breastfeeding - from family members and the community.

A volunteer peer counsellor visits a new mother in Barangay Concepcion. Mothers need a lot of support when breastfeeding – from family members and the community.

Barangay Panicuason Health Center's breastfeeding station.

Barangay Panicuason Health Center’s breastfeeding station.

Talking with the women of Barangay Panicuason.

Talking with the women of Barangay Panicuason.

At SM Naga Breastfeeding Station. SM has been supporting breastfeeding by providing breastfeeding rooms where mom can comfortably nurse their babies or pump/express milk. The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 or Republic Act 10028 mandates working mothers be given the space to breastfeed or express their milk, and should be allowed paid breaks (an extra 40 minutes a day) during which breastfeeding or expression of milk may be done.

At SM Naga Breastfeeding Station. SM has been supporting breastfeeding by providing breastfeeding rooms where mom can comfortably nurse their babies or pump/express milk. The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 or Republic Act 10028 mandates working mothers be given the space to breastfeed or express their milk, and should be allowed paid breaks (an extra 40 minutes a day) during which breastfeeding or expression of milk may be done.

Naga People's Mall (public market) is a breastfeeding-friendly place.

Naga People’s Mall (public market) is a breastfeeding-friendly place.

The logbook at the lactation room at Naga People's Mall (Public Market).

The logbook at the lactation room at Naga People’s Mall (Public Market).

At the Naga public market, officially known as the Naga People's Mall. I gave  brief talk to the community's breastfeeding and pregnant moms. I shared with them that I had chosen to exclusively breastfeed my babies the first 6 months and continue with complementary feeding after. I wanted them to know that this isn't just something we advocate for the poor and marginalised, that even women in large urban areas around the world choose to breastfeed because of the health and nutritious benefits.

At the Naga public market, officially known as the Naga People’s Mall. I gave brief talk to the community’s breastfeeding and pregnant moms. I shared with them that I had chosen to exclusively breastfeed my babies the first 6 months and continue with complementary feeding after. I wanted them to know that this isn’t just something we advocate for the poor and marginalised, that even women in large urban areas around the world choose to breastfeed because of the health and nutritious benefits.

At the Naga public market, officially known as the Naga People's Mall. Here volunteer peer counsellors share tips on how to breastfeed easily and the types of food babies 6 months and older should be eating. Instead of store-bought powdered cereals, babies 6 months and older should eat real and whole foods like pureed fruits and vegetables. They were also encouraged to plant backyard vegetable gardens.

At the Naga public market, officially known as the Naga People’s Mall. Here volunteer peer counsellors share tips on how to breastfeed easily and the types of food babies 6 months and older should be eating. Instead of store-bought powdered cereals, babies 6 months and older should eat real and whole foods like pureed fruits and vegetables. They were also encouraged to plant backyard vegetable gardens.

Naga Public Market's breastfeeding room.

Naga Public Market’s breastfeeding room.

The very proud proponent of Naga public market's breastfeeding room.

The very proud proponent of Naga public market’s breastfeeding room.

One of the breastfeeding moms at the Naga People's Mall (public market) breastfeeding room. They also have a small refrigerator for moms who have to express milk while working.

One of the breastfeeding moms at the Naga People’s Mall (public market) breastfeeding room. They also have a small refrigerator for moms who have to express milk while working.

At the Naga Water District. They have set up a breastfeeding room for lactating mom employees and guests. The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 or Republic Act 10028 mandates working mothers be given the space to breastfeed or express their milk, and should be allowed paid breaks (an extra 40 minutes a day) during which breastfeeding or expression of milk may be done.

At the Naga Water District. They have set up a breastfeeding room for lactating mom employees and guests. The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 or Republic Act 10028 mandates working mothers be given the space to breastfeed or express their milk, and should be allowed paid breaks (an extra 40 minutes a day) during which breastfeeding or expression of milk may be done.

Our first stop was a meeting with Naga City Mayor John Bongat. The city has been an early supporter of breastfeeding and maternal/infant nutrition.

Our first stop was a meeting with Naga City Mayor John Bongat. The city has been an early supporter of breastfeeding and maternal/infant nutrition.

Naga City Mayor John Bongat at the city hall's breastfeeding centre.

Naga City Mayor John Bongat at the city hall’s breastfeeding centre.

The part of my UNICEF trips that I love the most. Meeting cute babies. This was at the beastfeeding centre at Naga City Hall.

The part of my UNICEF trips that I love the most. Meeting cute babies. This was at the beastfeeding centre at Naga City Hall.

 

Feel free to share your breastfeeding story in the comments below. I love hearing about them.

 

 

Trick or Treat with UNICEF

 

 

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Every year at this time, I look forward to Trick or Treat for UNICEF. This is the only UNICEF activity that my kids can join me at. The other programs I do with UNICEF involve travel to areas that are under adverse conditions such as my last visit to Haiyan-affected areas in Tacloban. But the TOT for UNICEF is the perfect way to involve kids in raising funds and awareness about children’s issues. This campaign shows how everyone, even children themselves, can do their share to help kids in need.

 

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These are the Trick or Treat for UNICEF boxes of Sophia, Lily and Stella. During Halloween events, they are to bring these boxes with them so they can ask “treat givers” for some money to help raise funds for UNICEF Philippines.

 

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The back of the box shows how every little contribution counts and makes a big difference in children’s lives. This gives a more meaningful celebration of Halloween. Any child can join this campaign. Just go to Toy Kingdom and sign up for a box. Then after Halloween, go to the SM Payment counters listed at the back of the box and submit your donations.

 

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Since TOT for UNICEF was launched in the Philippines in 2012, my kids have been looking forward to participating.  This was when Stella was just three years old (back in 2012). She never wanted to see me go, so she came with me on stage.

 

Caption this! Haha. Stella was falling. I knocked down Lily's hat. Soph's hat also fell. This was the moment Lily's name was announced as winner of art contest. Haha!
Also from 2012, the kids and I were taking Photo Booth pictures when the winners of the art contest were announced. This was the moment Lily heard her name! Haha.

 

My two kids won first prize in the art contest in each of their age categories. Awww. #tot4unicef @unicefphils
Both Sophia and Lily won 1st place during the art contest. Each child was asked to draw a super hero and explain its powers.  Photo from 2012.

 

Kicked off @unicefphils Trick or Treat boxes! Now kids can help other kids. Get your #tot4unicef kids from your schools.
The Kid Superheroes theme symbolizes Youth Empowerment. It sends a message to kids that they can be superheroes for other children in need. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF empowers kids to help others in a fun and creative way. Photo from 2012

 

Our favourite time of year at @unicefphils. My kids all run their own fundraising campaign during Halloween. Get your Trick or Treat Collection Boxes at Toy Kingdom and have your kids get involved with this great cause. #unicef @unicef #zamboanga #dogood
The following year, in 2013, my girls participated again. Here’s Stella, still glued to me.

 

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This year, we are all out in supporting TOT for UNICEF again. The kids did the whole 9 yards – art contest, commitment board, signing up for the boxes.  Stella, now 5, was able to assemble her own box. She’s taking charge of her TOT for UNICEF box as she goes trick or treating this weekend.

 

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All three daughters — all writers and artists — loved this part of the program. You can actually still join the online art contest here.

 

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This year’s Trick-or-Treat focuses on emergency preparedness since the Philippines is one of the most high-risk countries in the world for experiencing natural disasters like typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

 

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UNICEF Philippines National Ambassador Gary Valenciano performed in front of a crowd during the launch of the annual UNICEF Trick or Treat Event at the SM Southmall foodstreet, October 4, 2014. Photo UNICEF/Jeric Cruz 2014