Two Bills on Breastfeeding

AT LARGE
Two bills on breastfeeding

By Rina Jimenez-David, Inquirer
August 14, 2007

MANILA, Philippines — It’s Breastfeeding Month, and to celebrate the occasion, Sen. Pia Cayetano, who chairs both the committee on health and the committee on environment, has chosen to re-file the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act.The draft law was passed in the Senate during the previous Congress but failed to reach third reading in the House of Representatives. It has been re-filed in the Senate as Senate Bill 761, with an additional provision on the establishment of milk banks.

The bill seeks to establish a national policy on breastfeeding and thus reverse the decline in breastfeeding rates in the country. It reinforces the National Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, Breastmilk Supplements and Other Related Products, also known as the Milk Code.As the senator tells it, the impetus behind the bill is an experience she underwent when she had to leave her child, who was still breastfeeding at the time, at home while she took a work-related trip abroad. “I had to express milk to keep up my supply,” she recalls, “but I had a difficult time looking for a private space where I could do it. At airports, I had to lock the door of baby-changing stations for some privacy, but the incessant knocking of other people wanting to use the room rattled me.”

From this personal experience, Cayetano has come up with a measure that would “mandate the establishment of lactation stations in workplaces and public spaces,” as well as require employers to provide “compensated breaks or lactation periods” to allow their employees who are nursing mothers “reasonable compensable time during the day to either breastfeed or express their milk.”

The bill would also allow establishments which set up lactation stations (such as the SM malls) to use the designation “mother-friendly” in their promotional materials.

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BEYOND lactation stations, the bill would also mandate the health department to “develop and provide breastfeeding programs for working mothers” which even the private sector could adopt, as well as to “conduct training for all health workers involved in obstetrical and pediatric services to ensure that they are knowledgeable about the advantages of breastfeeding and risks associated with breast-milk substitutes.”

The bill also seeks to “encourage health workers and institutions to provide pregnant and lactating mothers the necessary support, proper information and training on breastfeeding and to primarily recommend breastfeeding and only recommend breastmilk substitutes where, after explaining the advantages of breastfeeding and risks associated with breastmilk substitutes, a mother still opts to give formula to her newborn.”

Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that doctors, nurses and midwives exert an extraordinary amount of influence over mothers who are at their most vulnerable and gullible immediately after delivery. An indifferent or even skeptical health service provider could easily erode a new mother’s determination to breastfeed. “I was already a lawyer,” recalls Sen. Cayetano, “but after I gave birth I even had doubts about the wisdom of my choice to breastfeed because my ob-gyne wasn’t so encouraging.”

Thus, the senator would also want breastfeeding education integrated in all relevant subjects at the elementary, high school, and college levels, including medical and allied medical courses, as well as in technical/vocational education.The bill also encourages health institutions to set up milk banks for the storage of breast-milk donated by mothers and which has undergone pasteurization, while recommending that the stored breastmilk “be primarily given to children in neonatal intensive care unit whose own mothers cannot produce, or do not have enough breastmilk.”

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THE SENATOR also has another pending bill which would address the main issue raised by infant-formula manufacturers in their case, currently before the Supreme Court, against the revised rules and regulations of the Milk Code promulgated by the Department of Health.If passed, the bill would ban “advertisements, sponsorships, promotions and other marketing materials for breast-milk substitutes for infants and young children (expanded to include three year olds).” The bill will also ban “names, color schemes, and graphics of breast-milk substitutes for children up to three years old” which are “identical or confusingly similar” to brands for infants and young children.Other marketing activities, especially those involving health workers are also included in the ban, and would create a “fund” from the milk manufacturers which could be used to promote the benefits of breastfeeding.

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