Breast milk ‘containers’ never rust
MANILA, Philippines — One thing you can say about breast milk — its containers will never “rust.” This brings to mind that old — and corny — joke about the advantages of breast milk, including the fact that “it comes in the most attractive containers.” Since I think the eroticization of the female breast and even of breastfeeding is one factor contributing to the ambivalent feelings some women have about suckling their young, I won’t go there. But I’m very sure that breastfeeding mothers won’t ever have to worry about their milk becoming contaminated, unlike mothers currently bottle-feeding and depending on “Bonna,” “Promil Kid,” “Promil” and “Progress Gold” for their children’s nutrition. As you are aware, the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) ordered earlier this week the recall of millions of cans of the above-mentioned milk brands, which had been found to be infested with molds and rusting outer rims.The milk brands are products of Wyeth, a multinational giant that has joined with other powdered milk manufacturers in the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) in contesting the Department of Health’s authority to issue revised rules and regulations on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. Perhaps, Wyeth should publicize how they propose to improve on the packaging of breast milk, which, unlike “Promil,” “Promil Kid,” etc., doesn’t have to be placed in metal cans and stored in weather-proof warehouses, mixed with clean boiled water and poured into feeding bottles that have been previously washed and sterilized.To be sure, Wyeth has engaged in an extensive damage-control media campaign, issuing clarifications that they had conducted tests on the milk in the affected cans and found that “the integrity of the milk powder was maintained.” Rightly, the BFAD has said it remains “unconvinced” about Wyeth’s claims. After all, the Wyeth labs are hardly a disinterested party in the recall.
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BUT this hue and cry over the allegedly damaged milk cans certainly points to the vulnerability of milk powder which, like other consumer products, is subject to spoilage, improper storage and contamination. Perhaps we should add these to the many reasons cited by experts who say that powdered milk is clearly inferior to breast milk.This would obviously be news to the millions of Filipino mothers who have chosen to bottle-feed their children. And the irony is, as the documentary “Formula for Disaster” shows, mothers are choosing bottle over breast mainly because they believe that powdered milk is the superior product, that it would make their babies not just healthier but also brighter. This is all foolishness, of course, but if the only information you get about infant nutrition is from radio, TV and print ads, as well as doctors, nurses and midwives pushing their own brands at you, you will come away thinking bottle-fed babies are fatter (which is, on the average, true but it is “bad” fat), healthier, stronger, more intelligent.
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I RECENTLY got into a heated (but friendly) discussion with two health professionals, a midwife and an obstetrician-gynecologist, about the merits and demerits of breastfeeding. It isn’t just misinformation or disinformation that explains many mothers’ preference for bottle-feeding, argued the midwife. It’s also the demands made on a mother’s time and convenience (and privacy) by breastfeeding.“I don’t think many mothers would bring their infants with them when they commute to work,” commented the doctor. “Imagine exposing a baby to all that pollution!”“When a mother returns to work,” said the midwife, “she usually has a hard time continuing to breastfeed. Just imagine,” she added, “a working mother having to ride the bus or stand in a jam-packed LRT [Light Rail Transit] car while lugging her breast pump and bottles, not to mention a cooler in which she will store the expressed milk.”In many work places, she added, breastfeeding mothers don’t even have a private space where they could breastfeed without interruption. And where could she store the expressed milk? Rare is the employer who would provide a refrigerator exclusively for storing expressed breast milk.
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FROM PERSONAL experience, while it is difficult to continue breastfeeding even after your maternity leave, it’s possible. All you need to do is to express milk after each feeding and store the milk in your freezer (properly labeled with the date of expressing). Thawed (but not heated) frozen breast milk allows your husband or nanny to continue “breastfeeding” your baby even when you’re away. But to keep up your milk supply, you need to express while at work.I know, too, about the inconveniences presented by breastfeeding or even expressing milk. “Imagine the mother tilling the field or selling fish in the market having to stop and express her milk,” argued the midwife.But then, I argued back, aren’t these precisely the mothers who can ill-afford to buy powdered milk for their babies and to meet all the demands of proper, sanitary bottle-feeding?
I think this is a “false dilemma.” It’s a dilemma only because we think breastfeeding is solely the mother’s (and baby’s) concern. But if the survival of infants is a social concern, then society will have to step up and do its part. Husbands will have to help with the housework so their wives could breastfeed as needed. Employers will have to provide breastfeeding rooms, breast pumps and refrigerators for hassle-free milk expression. Legislators can consider a longer maternity leave and penalizing employers who discriminate against women because of it. And the public should support mothers who choose to breastfeed — even if by force of circumstance they do this in public. The least you could do is not to stare or snicker.