|Photo source: UNICEF|
This article won as one of the Ten Outstanding Health Stories of 2013 awarded by the Department of Health and the Probe Media Foundation Inc.
Originally published in The Philippine Star (click to view original article)
When I was a student nurse, I remember how zealously we taught every mother the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding and that it increases the mother-child bond. We taught about colostrum, performed the mnemonics of B-R-E-A-S-T-F-E-E-D-I-N-G through songs and dances and how fancy we made our artsy presentations to Mothers' Classes.
I remembered that we highly discouraged mothers from bringing neither milk bottles nor suction apparatus in the hospital premises. I remembered how the Department of Health campaigned for exclusive breastfeeding which even have a television commercial of a mother saying "my child is not a cow". This commercial struck me. That no child deserves no less than a mother's milk - not of cows.
These are our efforts as part of our roles in fulfilling the Executive Order No. 51 or the National Milk Code of the Philippines.
However the current Milk Code is now being proposed to be amended in the 15th Congress of the Republic.
But the proposed amendments are not pleasing breastfeeding advocates - mothers especially. The amendments to the Milk Code according to them is deleterious to the decades of pure hard work for all Filipino mothers and advocates who pushed a proactive piece of legislation. To some even calling it a “Monster Bill” after the bill has been consolidated.
Two decades of the Code
26 years ago, the Executive Order No. 51 was signed by the late President Corazon Aquino and was enacted in October of 1986. 21 years after it was passed, the Revised Implementing Rules & Regulations (RIRR) of the Milk Code was approved after 11 revisions. That is not such a long time wasn't it?
More than two decades ago, our mothers would not know about Colostrum and how breast milk protects their child from infection and diseases. Two decades ago, our mothers know nothing that one of the first activities to bond herself to her newborn is through breastfeeding and that there it is also a natural contraceptive for about six months. Not two decades ago our mothers would know that breast milk is superior to any infant formula milk.
Amending the Code
After a few years of the Milk Code’s full implementation, a proposal to amend it came to the House of Representatives. What was a bit confusing was when the proposed amendments had gone through the committee hearings at the House Committee on Health and is now on the House Committee on Trade & Industry under the radar.
A consolidated bill is now being filed in substitution to House Bills 3525, 3527, 3396 and 3537. This consolidated bill is being authored by the following representatives, Rufus Rodriguez, Lani Mercado-Revilla, and Lucy Torres-Gomez among others. This consolidated bill is an act promoting a comprehensive program on breastfeeding practices and regulating the trade, marketing and promotions of certain foods for infants and children.
According to Baby Milk Action, a non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom, this consolidated bill is being backed by the Infant and Pediatric Nutrition Association of the Philippines or IPNAP which is being composed of the following milk substitute manufacturing companies – Nestle, Mead Johnson, Abbott and Fonterra.
Breaking the Code
There are four (4) House Bills that were being consolidated into one:
HB 3396 – authored by Rep. Bondoc, also a medical doctor;
HB 3523 – authored by Rep. Gunigundo;
HB 3527 – authored by Reps. Noel & Rodriguez; and
HB 3537 – authored by Reps. Mercado-Revilla & Torres-Gomez
Of the four bills, only the Bondoc-authored bill can be considered a “good bill”. However, the good representative is on leave due to her delicate pregnancy, which means, the other 3 “not-so-good bills” overshadowed the good one in the author’s absence.
The consolidated bill is now called “An Act Promoting a Comprehensive Program on Breastfeeding Practices and Regulating the Trade, Marketing and Promotions of Certain Foods for Infants and Children”.
Let me tell you why I am against the some amendments to the Milk Code:
Compensable lactation periods – no more. According to R.A. 10028, breastfeeding and working mothers are allowed a compensated 40-minute break within the 8-hour working day. However, under the current consolidated bill specifically in Section 8d, this 40-minute break will be unpaid and either be deducted from the official work time, or none at all.
To the many working and lactating mothers I have talked to, this benefit is very essential and according to them, it reduces their absences from work. It makes them healthier and more productive. And for them, taking this benefit is nothing but a disregard to their basic rights to breastfeed their child when necessary.
Breast milk is best for babies up to 6 months…only? Section 32 of the consolidated bill limits advertising restrictions for infants 0 to 6 months which is contrary to the current Milk Code which limits up to 2 years of age. This means, milk companies can now advertise freely to mothers who have infants beyond 6 months of age.
According to the Save the Babies Coalition, allowing promotions of breast milk substitute or infant milk formula from 6 months and above will cause irreparable damages to the growth and development of infants and shall only gain these multinational companies.
Most mothers would not discriminate formula milk given to a 6-month old infant to a 2-year old one. For many especially those who are in poor communities, formula milk is ‘milk’. Allowing milk companies to advertise to the public and to mothers who have in infants 6-months and above would jeopardize the provisions of the Milk Code which encourages mothers to breastfeed until 2-3 years of age.
Only our milk can give your child +7 IQ. Under Section 16 of the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (RIRR) of the Milk Code, it is prohibited for milk companies to print or publish all health or nutritional claims that would connote to increasing emotional or intellectual capacities of the infant.
Breastfeeding in emergency situations, milk companies to the rescue. Section 46 of the consolidated bill will now allow milk companies to “donate” their products to emergency situations and disaster-stricken areas with the thought of “helping” lactating mothers ease their anxiety by giving them milk formula. The current Milk Code prohibits such “donations” very strongly.
Mothers who are given formula milk and started to give to their children is a subliminal approach telling mothers how “easier” it would be for them to buy milk formula instead of exerting to breastfeed especially in times like that. It’s like once you start, you can’t stop strategy.
Your infant milk formula is in English Only Policy. Section 26 removes the bi-lingual labeling on milk containers. This means, no more Filipino translation for mothers or fathers who cannot fully comprehend those English labels. Infant milk companies are required to translate the label that says breast milk is superior to artificial milk.
Well of course these multinationals wouldn’t like a common Filipino housewife to read this in Filipino/Tagalog or else they are doomed.
I will teach you about taking care of your baby, by taking our products. Section 20(c) allows milk companies to engage in educational activities and even in the production of materials relating to breastfeeding, infant care and nutrition. What would we expect, a tone void of their products so-called claims of their products and not opposing advantages of breastfeeding?
Save the Babies. Moderate the Greed.
I call upon nurses, doctors, midwives and other health professionals to continue educating our mothers about the advantages of breastfeeding and to oppose the following amendments to the current Milk Code.
I call upon our legislators especially to the authors of the bill to follow the voice of your constituents and consult your mothers in your locality. Tell them about the proposed amendments and solicit their responses. Would they want all these to happen to their children? Would we want our infants to be dependent on formula milk when our mothers can breast feed them?
I call upon our mothers and breastfeeding advocates to unify our efforts and continue drumming to gain support to protect mothers and infants. Breastfeeding is the single most economic, safe and effective to increase the maternal-child bond but this is being threatened once again. It is time to increase everyone's efforts to protect the vulnerable and the voiceless.
What we currently need is to properly implement the Code and if we are going to amend it, it would be best that no ulterior motives benefiting few companies or people be tolerated and that the best interest would be for our lactating mothers and the voiceless infants in our country.
I therefore call to our milk manufacturing companies to please moderate your greed and to please do consider the welfare of our infants and mothers.