The Department of Health (DOH) recommends breast milk is best when it comes to feeding a baby in the first year of life.
August is National and World Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and experts and mothers from more than 170 countries agree with the health department that exclusively breastfeeding during the first 6 months provides all the nutrition an infant needs.
The DOH, together with the National Nutrition Council--the highest policy-making and coordinating body on nutrition--recommend that mothers breastfeed exclusively for about the first 6 months, followed by breastfeeding combined with gradually introducing other foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuing as long as mother and baby wish to breastfeed.
To emphasize the importance of breastfeeding as a highly beneficial public health intervention for mothers and children on the First 1000 days, the DOH leads the celebration of the National Breastfeeding Awareness Month this August 2021 with the theme, “Tulong-Tulong sa Pagpapasuso sa First 1000 Days!".
Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding is a shared responsibility of the family, community, government, and other members of society. It requires a whole of society approach to improve the breastfeeding practices of mothers.
Mothers need to practice breastfeeding TSEK (Tama, Sapat, at Eksklusibo) to ensure that infants receive the best nutrition for optimum growth, health, and development particularly during the first 1000 days.
Breastfeeding TSEK means:
- “Tama” - immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby after birth, and initiation of breastfeeding within the first hour of life.
- “Sapat” – the mother need not worry if she is not producing much milk during the first few days after the child’s birth. Little breastmilk is enough for the first week and frequent breastfeeding ensures continuous breastmilk supply to respond to the increasing needs of the baby.
- “EKsklusibo” - giving only breastmilk and no other liquid to the baby for the first six months. Breastmilk has all the water and nutrients that the baby needs for the first six (6) months after which the baby should be given appropriate complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding.
However, the NNC said that despite the known benefits of breastfeeding, "many mothers still do not breastfeed."
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only about 44% of infants aged 0-6 months worldwide were exclusively breastfed from 2015 to 2020, and nearly two out of three infants are not exclusively breastfed.
"Sadly, this rate has not improved in two (2) decades. The 2019 Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS) revealed that although early breastfeeding initiation and exclusive breastfeeding were common feeding practices, the rate of breastfeeding exclusively until 5.9 months was low at 35.9%, with an average of 4.4 months of breastfeeding duration," the NNC explained.
"The sub-optimal breastfeeding practices put the infants at risk to malnutrition. It is during the first 1000 days of life when growth faltering happens. Failure to breastfeed infants at this critical time may result to the irreversible effects of undernutrition such as stunting," it added.
"Breastfeeding is a public health intervention to prevent illnesses and all forms of malnutrition – especially stunting. Breastfeeding may be natural, but it is a learned act and the battleground to sustain breastfeeding is through a supportive environment found in households and community peer groups like breastfeeding support groups," it further said.
Realizing the need to help promote, protect, and support breastfeeding especially during the pandemic, the National Nutrition Council-National Capital Region (NNC-NCR) mobilized the members of the Association of City/District Nutrition Program Coordinators of Metro Manila to provide free online counseling to mothers to help them in their concerns on infant and young child feeding or IYCF. The online IYCF counseling started on April 8, 2020 and is still being offered free by the NCR BFFs or Breastfeeding Friends who are nutritionist-dietitians trained on IYCF.
The DOH said among the benefits of breastfeeding:
- Creates a special, close, emotional bond;
- Provides essential, balanced nutrients;
- Is cost-effective; and
- Offers short- and long-term health benefits for both babies and mothers.
According to health experts, the protection that a mother’s breast milk provides is specific to her baby and actually changes to meet her baby’s needs.
Because breast milk contains hormones and cells that fight germs, breastfeeding helps protect infants from many health problems, including respiratory illness, ear infections, gastrointestinal disease, asthma, obesity and allergies.
As an added bonus for mothers, breastfeeding is linked to lower rates of breast cancer and other illnesses, and aids in post-pregnancy weight loss. (PIA-NCR)