Save the Children Philippines is urging local government units, private groups, charitable organizations and individuals to adhere to existing laws that prohibit the distribution of infant formula or breastmilk substitute as part of relief goods to encourage breastfeeding among mothers, ensure good health and adequate nutrition of infants and young children.
Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines said nutrition and health support to children, pregnant and lactating mothers must be integrated into the national and local government response during the COVID-19 pandemic including the promotion of breastfeeding.
Several cities and municipalities have been distributing milk formula as part of relief goods to their constituents, which raised concerns of breastfeeding advocates.
“Children suffer the worst impact of the COVID-19 pandemic due to rising levels of poverty, ill-health, and malnutrition,” said Atty. Muyot. “We call on local governments to support parents and guardians by encouraging mothers to breastfeed, and provide access to affordable and healthy food.”
He said donations of infant formula in times of disasters, calamities, and emergencies including pandemic are strictly prohibited under the Milk Code or Executive Order 51 of 1986, the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion under Republic Act 10028, and the Republic Act 11148 or Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act which is being implemented nationwide. Save the Children Philippines joins the Department of Health and the National Nutrition Council in calling all LGUs to strictly adhere to these laws and guidelines, especially during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.
These laws mandate local government units to establish milk banks during emergency situations to provide access to breastmilk when mothers become sick or not able to breastfeed their babies. The milk banks will provide a venue for lactating mothers who wish to donate their breastmilk.
Dr. Amado Parawan, Health and Nutrition Advisor of Save the Children Philippines said breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic is highly encouraged to strengthen the immune system of babies, protect children from respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, prevent malnutrition, and ensure bonding between the mother and her baby. He said breastmilk is safe and ensures babies grow up healthy, and increases IQ.
“Breastmilk is the best source of nutrition for babies and there is no milk formula that can provide the same optimum health and nutrition benefits to infants and young children,” said Dr. Parawan.
He added that colostrum-the the first milk formed after the delivery of the newborn contains antibodies that protect the newborn against diseases. Recent studies also state that colostrum has properties against diseases caused by viruses.
He said mothers, even those infected by COVID-19, can still continue breastfeeding while limiting the baby’s exposure to the virus by using respiratory precautions. Mothers who have been infected by COVID-19 may choose to breastfeed, but they must wear a facemask and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. “There are no clear scientific studies that the Coronavirus can be transmitted through breastmilk,” said Dr. Parawan.
Also, mothers who are sick can choose to manually express breastmilk to maintain milk supply. These mothers should wash their hands properly before doing breast milk expression.
Dr. Parawan said expectant mothers should eat healthy food, maintain personal hygiene, and take iron folic supplements. Breastfeeding mothers must have a support system through their husbands, partners, and other members of the family.
He reminded pregnant mothers to go to a birthing facilities, lying-in clinics, and infirmary with a midwife, nurse, or doctor as many hospitals are crowded with COVID-19 patients. He also advised mothers giving birth to seek help from health and nutrition workers and breastfeeding support groups when facing difficulties in initiating and continuing breastfeeding.
Save the Children Philippines advocated for the passage of First 1,000 Days law or RA 11148, which mandates exclusive breastfeeding for babies up to six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years while starting complementary feeding.
“Children, including pregnant and lactating mothers, are most vulnerable during COVID-19 pandemic, and local government units should prioritize their health and nutrition,” said Dr. Parawan.