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ILO, UNICEF and WHO hail significant increase in breastfeeding rates

© UNICEF Philippines/2012/KPalasi
Taguig City Breastfeeding Counselor Gemma Alicando counsels a mother on breastfeeding. Support for breastfeeding needs to come from all levels in society, to ensure women can make informed choices on infant feeding.

1 August 2012, Manila, Philippines. On the commemoration of Global Breastfeeding Week, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) congratulated the Government of the Philippines for the significant increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates in the country. Recent figures released by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI-DOST) showed that exclusive breastfeeding rates have risen from 36 per cent in 2008 to 47 per cent in 2011. The initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of delivery has increased from 32 per cent in 2008 to 52 per cent in 2011.

At the same time, there are still substantial disparities in exclusive breastfeeding rates within the Philippines. Data from the recent Family Health Survey (FHS) in 2011 showed that exclusive breastfeeding rates in some areas of the country are as low as 27 per cent.  Further efforts will be needed to increase the exclusive breastfeeding to be truly at the universal level, which will have a significant impact on the nutritional status of children in the Philippines.  Exclusive breastfeeding is the best way to provide babies with the nutrients they need during the first six months of life, and means giving the baby no additional liquids or solid food - not even water.

WHO Representative in the Philippines, Dr. Soe Nyunt-U commented:
“Breastfeeding can save the lives of both mothers and babies, this is one of the important interventions to reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. The increase in breastfeeding rates takes us that much closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in child health. We should continue to intensify the campaign to promote, protect and support breastfeeding in order to gain more grounds.”

The government is leading the initiatives on breastfeeding promotion across the country in collaboration with various partners.  It is this concerted effort along with a strong, policy and legislative framework that is making a difference.

“We know that efforts to increase breastfeeding rates take the cooperation and commitment of many actors from different sectors. What we have seen in recent years is a coming together of many different partners from the government, political leaders, NGOs, other civil society organizations and media to support these efforts.  This is the key to sustained improvements in breastfeeding and ultimately in physical and mental development of children in the Philippines,” Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative says.

One of the challenges for breastfeeding is the period when a mother returns to work. Many working women face difficulties with the risk of income loss after giving birth.
“Working women often feel the pressure of immediately reporting back to work and giving up breastfeeding for fear of losing their job or returning to work with lower pay or position,” said Director Lawrence Jeff Johnson of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Office for the Philippines.

The ILO has been working to encourage employers to support women’s rights to breastfeed during work hours.

“Workplaces which provide space and time for mothers to continue breastfeeding, profit in terms of increased productivity, reduced parental absence, lower healthcare costs, higher rate of return to work, increased staff loyalty and reduced training budget,” said Director Johnson.

Another important part of creating a supportive environment for breastfeeding is having a strong policy and legal framework that is in line with the globally agreed codes of conduct to regulate the marketing of breastmilk substitutes such as infant formula, and the global strategies on infant and young child feeding as endorsed by the World Health Assembly.

 “The strong legislative and policy framework in the Philippines is being recognized as one of the best in the world, protecting every Filipino mother’s right to breastfeed.  The Milk Code or Executive Order 51, signed by President Corazon Aquino back in 1986 ensures that breastfeeding is protected and women are given clear information on the benefits of breastfeeding without undue influence of infant formula companies.  The very substantial improvement in the exclusive breastfeeding rate that we are seeing today is a dividend of such efforts made by leaders and people in the Philippines over the last two decades.  These laws are something which the whole nation should be proud of and continue to uphold,” Hozumi added.

 

 
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