Now, more than ever, the importance of breastfeeding is being reinforced by the government because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a challenge to infant feeding.
In observance of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, the Department of Health (DOH) is appealing to the public to protect, promote, and support the practice of exclusive breastfeeding of infants from birth up to six months, and continued with complementary feeding onwards with breastfeeding being the most healthy, efficient, and environmentally-sustainable action of mothers for their children.
This year’s theme, “Tulong-Tulong sa Pagpapasuso sa First 1000 Days!" raises the importance of breastfeeding during the infant's first 32 months.
"We enjoin everyone to ensure that Filipino infants will have proper and adequate nutrition to improve their resilience against the disease and minimize the long-term effects of malnutrition, ultimately meeting the country’s commitment to sustainable development," Health Secretary Francisco Duque III emphasized.
“Breastfeeding is the most sustainable and complete nutrition for the first 6 months of life, with continued benefits when done with complementary feeding for older infants and children. In this pandemic, mothers should not be worried about breastfeeding, as long as proper infection prevention and control (IPC) measures are observed,” Duque said.
The health chief added that mothers with suspected and/or confirmed COVID-19 should continue breastfeeding, following proper wearing of masks, and frequent, proper handwashing before and after contact with the child. Among the few cases of confirmed COVID-19 infection in children, most have experienced only mild or asymptomatic illness—and this must be supported with the immunological benefits of breastfeeding in infants and young children.
To date, COVID-19 has not been detected in the breastmilk of any mother with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. While researchers continue to conduct tests, it appears unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding or by giving breastmilk that has been expressed by a mother who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19.
Babies who receive their mothers’ breastmilk receive antibodies that protect them from potentially deadly infections like pneumonia, diarrhea, and sepsis.
This is a call for mothers to breastfeed without any additional food or fluids, not even water, for the first six months—and continue breastfeeding with safe, nourishing, and diverse complementary food. Appropriate complementary feeding should be introduced at six months with continuous breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond.
Following delivery, medical practitioners and midwives are also advised to facilitate immediate and continued skin-to-skin care, including Kangaroo Mother Care, to improve thermal regulation of newborns and several other physiological outcomes. Aside from the association with reduced neonatal mortality, placing the newborn close to the mother also enables early initiation of breastfeeding which also reduces neonatal mortality.
In all socio-economic settings, breastfeeding improves survival and provides lifelong health and development advantages to newborns and infants. Breastfeeding also improves the health of mothers. According to the 2018 Expanded National Nutrition Survey, however, the percentage of 0-5 months old children who are exclusively breastfed remains to be low at 29.0 percent.
Several legislations have been enacted by Congress to support better nutrition, especially during the first 1000 days of a child’s life, including Republic Act (RA) 11148 or the Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act, RA 11210 or the Expanded Maternity Leave Act, RA 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act, RA10821 or the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act, and the Executive Order 51 or the Philippine Milk Code.
The DOH call for the firm and continuous enforcement of these legislations, particularly the Philippine Milk Code, the strict regulation of milk donation, and the implementation of Essential Infant and Newborn Care (EINC) or “Unang Yakap” during the time of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll in many Filipino families’ health. Because of this, the government cannot stress enough the importance of ensuring that the correct information on health and nutrition—which includes breastfeeding—reach the Filipinos. The child and the environment greatly benefit from the efficient, climate-smart practice of breastfeeding that contributes to food security and reduces the country's carbon and ecological footprints.