Breastfeeding is core program of US health campaign
Published on Page C2 of the August 17, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
“WALANG KUKURAP.” If you do, you may miss the reminder in television advertisements for children’s milk that breast milk is best for babies up to six months of age. It is apparent that the one-liner is, for many milk ads, an afterthought, a grudging concession to a legal requirement to inform people that breast milk should be preferred to infant formula. Most TV milk ads use some 99.999 percent of visual and audio material touting features that will turn kids into future Einsteins, Michelangelos, Shakespeares or Beethovens. After all the hype, with viewers so fired up they feel like rushing to the nearest store to buy the products even if they don’t have an infant, the commercials end with that one-liner about breast milk that is gone in the blink of an eye. Ironically, in the Philippines where existing conditions point to the need for breast-feeding as the safer, healthier and cheaper guarantee of young children’s health, advocates of the practice have to use so much energy and time to be heard. What are those conditions? Lack of access to potable water for a large segment of the population, absence of hygienic facilities for preparing and storing milk, and the high cost of formula (a small can costs more than P100) are just a few of them. Recently, coming home from the United States, I saw at the airport pre-departure lounge a slim, blonde 30-ish woman give her breast very discreetly to her son who was about a year old. Her blouse had overlaps that made it possible to feed in public without exposing herself.
In contrast, many women who sleep on the streets of Manila give their very young children bottles containing liquids that look like extremely watered-down milk. Usually, since infant formula is expensive, the watered-down drink that these infants get is condensed milk, which has more sugar than what’s good for a growing child. Between that blonde, who could travel from San Francisco to Reykjavik, Iceland (that’s where the flight she boarded was going) with her three children, and a woman who lives on the street, the latter would benefit more from breast-feeding as she would not have to buy milk nor worry about finding clean water to mix with the milk or to wash the bottle with. It would also be easier for her to keep her breast clean for her suckling child. And now, while the Philippines still struggles to make women return to breast-feeding, the New York Times has reported that the US’ new public health campaign, Healthy People 2010, would have breast-feeding as a core program. Roni Rabin, who wrote the story, said one of the unambiguous messages of the new campaign would be: “Public health officials have determined that not breast-feeding may be hazardous to your baby’s health.” This follows a recent announcement by the World Health Organization that breastfeeding should be the “biological norm” for infant nutrition. Although there are some disagreements about the extent of breast milk’s disease-preventing and growth-promoting benefits, there is generally a consensus that it is still superior to formula. Rabin reported, “Scientific evidence supports the contention that breastfed babies are less vulnerable to acute infectious diseases, including respiratory and gastro-intestinal infections, experts say. Some studies also suggest that breastfed babies are at lower risk from sudden infant death syndrome and serious chronic diseases later in life, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.”