August is Breastfeeding Month. I meant to share this story weeks ago, but the storms and floods got me off focus. I went on a UNICEF site visit to Taguig a few weeks ago to see their breastfeeding program.
We chose Taguig over other cities or municipalities because in a recent survey of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Taguig recorded an increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates from 68 to 73 percent. We wanted to see for ourselves how they did it. Taguig is the perfect example of a community that upholds a breastfeeding culture. Through the combination of effective laws and policies that promote and protect breastfeeding, supportive local leaders, health service providers and family members, as well as activities that reach out to mothers and their babies, any community can ensure the best start for its children.
Before going on field we met with Taguig’s Mayor Lani Cayetano. She told me that it doesn’t really take much to support a breastfeeding program in a city or municipality. “In terms of funding, not much. However, it does take a lot of heart and commitment from everyone, from the mayor to the councilors, down to the barangay captains and community health workers and volunteers,” Mayor Cayetano said. It is also cost-effective in the long term. The more breastfeeding mothers there are, the healthier their children and citizens will turn out to be. This means fewer people seeking medical treatment in the long run.
Taguig City also recently started to implement the Department of Health’s TSEK Program – short for Tama, Sapat at Eksklusibo – to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates among mothers and infants up to six months old. The TSEK program receives crucial support from the World Health Organisation through the joint UN programme to tackle infant and child nutrition, and from the Government of Spain and the European Union. Local NGOs such as Arugaan also lend assistance by transferring breastfeeding knowledge and counselling skills to the breastfeeding peer counsellors.
Please allow me to give a little explanation about exclusive breastfeeding. “Exclusive” breastfeeding means babies from birth to 6 months are fed only mother’s milk, and nothing else, not even water. It has many benefits for both the infant and mother. Studies show that breastfeeding exclusively is the best way to feed a baby, providing all the nutrients a baby needs for the first six months of life. Breastfeeding also contributes to the health and well-being of mothers–it reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer and helps space pregnancies. Best of all, it promotes mother and child bonding. After six months, nutritious and safe complementary food can be given but breastfeeding is still encouraged for up to two years and beyond.
Click, click, click… to see more of Taguig’s successful breastfeeding program.
This man was very supportive of his wife Josie’s breastfeeding. While his wife was seeing a volunteer lactation consultant, he held their newborn. Later I found out that he was to leave for work in Saudi Arabia three days after.
The pink-vested army of volunteer breastfeeding counsellors of Taguig. They track and follow up on expectant and new mothers, and guide them on proper breastfeeding. One volunteer counsellor told us that just the thought of being able to help her fellow mothers and share with them valuable knowledge gives her much satisfaction, especially in poor communities like theirs, where health is indeed wealth.
The peer counsellors do their rounds in various barangays to visit and provide assistance to breastfeeding moms regularly. They help in giving nutrition advice, lactation massage, assistance with proper latch and many other issues facing breastfeeding moms.
This is Josie at her house. She is the wife of the man in above photograph, the one leaving for Saudi Arabia. Josie is in her early 30’s and this is her first child. She has decided to exclusively breastfeed her baby for 6 months and continue on with complementary feeding with solids after. When we met her at the health centre, she was having a hard time breastfeeding her three day old baby. But after some counseling and lactation massage performed by the barangay midwife, she learned the proper way of holding and the baby’s latch. UNICEF/K. Palasi 2012
During Josie’s first pregnancy five years ago, she miscarried. Her husband works in Saudi Arabia and they had to wait many years before she could get pregnant again. When she got pregnant, she quit her job to ensure a stress-free and safe pregnancy. Her husband was home for the delivery (and present during the health centre visit), but was scheduled to leave for the Middle East three days after our visit.
Maria Fe Sico, 26, a single mom to her new baby Lance. Her first child was born five years ago. While she didn’t breastfeed her first child, she is committed to breastfeeding Lance. “Canned milk is expensive and I have no work,” Maria Fe says. “My counsellor then told me that if I breastfeed my baby, he would grow healthy. Now I will breastfeed until I am able.”
Marilyn, 37 now has five children. She breastfed all children, some up to three years old. “Lahat sila malulusog. Ang panganay ko, nasa college na.” (“They are all healthy. My eldest is now in college.”)
It was amazing to see in practice in Taguig what we advocate in UNICEF. It is important to support breastfeeding moms. And it must come from all sectors of the community – from home, husband, in-laws, municipal and barangay health centres and hopefully the work place. Breastfeeding moms need nutrition support, comfort, shelter and somethings as easy as words of encouragement from the husband and in-laws.
Feel free to share breast feeding stories in the comment section as well as share and reTweet this article. We all need to work together to bring back the culture of breastfeeding as the norm instead of the exception. What are your breastfeeding wishes for your community and work places?
With additional notes and quotes from the UNICEF team.