Press Release
November 26, 2013

Sen.Pia backs breastfeeding for 'Yolanda babies,' nixes calls to relax restrictions on formula milk donations

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today said support for breastfeeding is crucial and should remain an integral part of relief efforts in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda, adding that this will help ensure, in the long run, the health and safety of some 4.5 million young children affected by the disaster. Cayetano issued the statement in response to various calls to relax government restrictions on milk formula donations meant for nursing mothers and their babies in calamity-stricken areas and evacuation centers.

"A switch to milk formula will be harmful because it would expose infants to the dangers of unclean water mixed with formula, or from improper cleaning of bottles, as clean and potable water is not readily available in devastated communities. It is crucial for mothers to be informed and warned of the dire consequences of improper feeding which is common without access to clean water," she said.

"Additionally, this will wean the infants from breast milk and make them dependent on formula which will not be given for free anymore once the dole-outs have run out. The mothers too will become dependent and would have no more milk of their own once the free supply ends."

"The reality is most of these babies were breastfed before the disaster. That shouldn't change. Breastfed babies should continue to be breast-fed. The danger is, the influx of donated formula will change this. This will be detrimental in the long run," stressed the senator, who authored the Expanded Breastfeeding Act (Republic Act 10028).

It should be recalled that Cayetano also pushed for the inclusion of a provision emphasizing support for breastfeeding in relief efforts under the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act (Republic Act 10121), which was passed in 2010.

"In evacuation centers, breastfeeding mothers should be encouraged to nurse other babies in need of breast milk. This is definitely safer and healthier than introducing formula milk. Relief efforts should focus to ensuring that breastfeeding mothers are well-fed and taken care of so she can continue breastfeeding her own infant and others if necessary."

"Amid the call to allow formula milk distribution, I ask: 'Paano sisiguruhin na malinis ang tubig kada timpla? May kasama bang donasyon ng bottled water? Paano pag wala nang supply ng formula? Eh di wala na ring gatas yung ina dahil tumigil na sa pagpapasuso.'"

"In the event where there is no mother who can breastfeed and no other alternative, experts have recommended that formula be given on a case-to-case basis. This is to avoid the wide-spread distribution of formula."

She said studies and experience in past disasters have shown that the lack of clean and safe water, combined with unsanitary conditions in calamity-hit areas, greatly increase the risk of diarrhea and allergies in babies fed with infant formula.

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