Press Release
August 31, 2021

Privilege speech on Breastfeeding Month
By Senator Pia S. Cayetano
Principal sponsor and author, Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act (RA 10028)

Dear colleagues, before the month ends, I'd like to draw attention to a very important matter that, quite honestly, we take for granted, hopefully because we have done our job and we are heading in the right direction.

I am talking about the most nutritious food for infants: breast milk.

By now, we all know that breast milk is best. It provides all the nutrients an infant needs up to 6 months. Only then is supplemental feeding recommended, along with continued breastfeeding.

I am taking this up now, dear colleagues, because it is August 31, the end of breastfeeding month. This has been a strong advocacy of mine, ever since I was a new mom, and even before I became a senator. And so every year, during the month of August, I do try to promote breastfeeding by delivering a privilege speech in the hope to educate even one more parent, grandparent, husband, so that they become supportive breastfeeding husbands to their wives.

We have had a number of legislations that promote breastfeeding. First was EO 51, known as the Milk Code in 1986. And then RA 7600, known as the Rooming-in Law in 1992. This primarily mandated that a baby be roomed in with the mother immediately after birth, to promote breastfeeding.

In 2007, I sponsored the Expanded Breastfeeding Act, which we passed in 2009 and became a law in 2010. I'd like to mention at this point that I worked with the late Senator Ed Angara, who prior to his interventions during the period of interpellation, I did not know that he was the author of the Rooming-in law. So together, we came up with what is now the Expanded Breastfeeding Law, which basically mandated that workplaces support mothers who are breastfeeding by providing for the lactation room and giving them time to breastfeed. It also included a comprehensive national public education and awareness program.

So the photos that you see, I think this one is actually the breastfeeding room in the House of Representatives, which I initiated when I was in the House the last 3 years. But previous to that, what was shown is the breastfeeding room in the Senate. This we did together with the GAD office of the Senate. So we have a lot of women, mostly our staff who have availed of this, but interestingly enough, we had signages at the time it was open to the public, of course now, due to COVID, we are not really inviting too many people to come in. But we used to have signages that inform those attending hearings, listening to sessions, that we have a breastfeeding room and we have had resource persons who have availed of the breastfeeding room. That's how productive that breastfeeding room has been for breastfeeding mothers.

Now, I'd like to tell you, dear colleagues, that in addition to that, there have been other laws passed by Congress, including Republic Act (RA) 11148 (the First 1000 Days act). I wasn't in the Senate then but I do know that Sen. Grace was principal author, just because I know she filed a bill when I was still in the Senate... I'm sure there are others in the Senate as well.

And then, later on, RA 11210 or the Expanded Maternity Leave Act, which was passed when I was in the House of Representatives. And prior to that, when I was still in the Senate, I sponsored RA10821 or the Children's Emergency Relief and Protection Act. All of these laws support and promote breastfeeding in different ways.

But let's look at the trends.

Infants Exclusively Breastfed until 6th month - that is the recommended period, exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 6 months - sadly has declined.

From 2011-2013, there was a drastic increase in mothers who were exclusively breastfeeding up to 6 months, but then this went down between 2014-2019 and it hovers between the number of 51% to 59%. So we really need to increase those numbers of mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding.

Yes, we do have a high number of women who do breastfeed, but we want to see this done on a continuous basis and ideally, as exclusively as possible.

And then, let's look at what the experts say about breastfeeding during the time of COVID. These are statements by various experts:

WHO says: To date, COVID-19 has not been detected in the breastmilk of any mother with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. While researchers continue to conduct tests, it appears unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding or by giving breastmilk that has been expressed by a mother who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.

Sa madaling salita, Tagalugin ko para sa lahat. Wala hong ebidensya na pwedeng magkaroon ng COVID-19 ang baby na galing sa nanay niya kung pinadede siya o itong milk ay in-express at nilagay sa bote at binigay sa kanya.

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) says: Current evidence suggests that breast milk is NOT likely to spread the virus to babies. It provides two options for lactating mothers who have COVID-19: They can still directly feed the baby but must wash hands before breastfeeding and wear mask while breastfeeding and whenever you are within 6 feet of your baby; or express breast milk to be fed by a caregiver to the baby

We further would like to provide the statement of Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines: "Breastfeeding is the cornerstone of every infant's survival, nutrition, and development. It allows early and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact between the mother and her child, and this significantly improves infants' survival as well as the mother's well-being. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when health and other essential services are disrupted and limited, we remind mothers to keep their children close and breastfeed them to prevent infection and for their optimal early development. Let us support mothers as they exclusively breastfeed in the first six months of life. The Philippines' breastfeeding status needs to be improved so we are able to achieve and sustain the exclusive breastfeeding global targets at 70 percent in 2030."

So I will remind everyone that the latest figures we have are in the 50s. 2019, 59% are exclusively breastfeeding within the 6-month period. So the target there is 70%.

I also have a joint statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week: At the start of this year, governments, donors, civil society and the private sector united to launch the Nutrition for Growth Year of Action. The Year of Action is a historic opportunity to transform the way the world tackles the global commitment to eliminate child malnutrition. And breastfeeding is central to realising this commitment. Initiating breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, followed by exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding for up to two years or beyond offer a powerful line of defence against all forms of child malnutrition, including wasting and obesity. Breastfeeding also acts as babies' first vaccine, protecting them against many common childhood illnesses.There has been a 50% increase in the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding globally, in the last 4 decades but the pandemic highlights the fragility of those gains. The pandemic has caused significant disruptions in breastfeeding support services, while increasing the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition. Unfortunately, producers of baby foods have compounded these risks by invoking unfounded fears that breastfeeding can transmit COVID-19 and marketing their products as a safer alternative to breastfeeding.

Huwag naman po sanang ganyan. Iba naman na pinapayagan namin ang ligal na produkto niyo, ibenta niyo, pero huwag naman kayo magkalat ng false information na magpapatigil o kakabahan ang nanay na magpa-breastfeed o magpasuso sa kanyang anak.

This year's World Breastfeeding Week, under its theme 'Protect Breastfeeding: A Shared Responsibility' is a time to revisit the commitments:

- Ensure the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes is fully implemented;

- Ensure HCWs have resources and information needed to effectively support mothers to breastfeed;

- Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative and guidelines on breastfeeding counselling are available; and

- Employers allow women the time and space they need to breastfeed; including paid parental leave with longer maternity leave; safe places for breastfeeding in the workplace; access to affordable and good-quality childcare; and universal child benefits and adequate wages.

As we approach the UN Food Systems Summit in September and the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit in December, governments, donors, civil society and the private sector all have an opportunity to make smart investments and commitments to tackle the global malnutrition crisis - including protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding - through stronger policies, programmes and actions.

Yan ho ang statement ng WHO and UNICEF on the occasion of World Breastfeeding Week.

Just to add, during this month, on the occasion of our celebration of breastfeeding month, WHO PH, DOH, Korean Embassy, the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), and UNICEF jointly appealed to the public to protect and promote breastfeeding, similar to what I said earlier.

Dear colleagues, there is a lot that we can do individually. Many of us are active in our local government units. We can support the barangay health workers, who are really the frontliners in promoting breastfeeding among the women in our communities. They used to conduct seminars. I don't think may nagpapa-seminar ngayon, but perhaps they could still be going house-to-house and be supportive with mothers. We need to continue doing that. Because these are the instruments of information that reach the grassroots. Over the years, I've done multiple breastfeeding seminars, Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao. We've put up milk banks in cooperation with many hospitals, including the Vicente Sotto Hospital based in Cebu. We've done milk letting projects, where you gather women and they donate their milk, which will be given to mothers of infants who, for one reason or the other, cannot breastfeed.

So dear colleagues, I simply ask that we do whatever we can to continue to support this throughout the years, the days, because this is really vital for the survival of our infants, especially during this pandemic. Thank you, dear colleagues, thank you, Mr. President.

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