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Smart, beautiful women speak up to promote mother’s milk

© UNICEF Philippines/2011/KPalasi

Breast-feeding is one of the most natural and joyous acts of human love. And yet many Filipina mothers today, misled by a number of mistaken notions, continue to depend chiefly on formula milk to nourish their infants.

A silence-breaking organization advocating breastfeeding, called BBB (Brains, Beauty, and Breast-feeding Inc.), says only 34 per cent of mothers in the Philippines practice exclusive feeding in the first six months of their babies. Based on UNICEF statistics, BBB also reveals that nearly half of all mothers in the country depend on artificial milk in varying degrees.

The group identifies several problematic misconceptions as the main hurdles to having all Filipino newborns properly breastfed:

A) exclusive breastfeeding in the formative first six months of an infant is a hindrance to a mother’s professional or personal goals; B) exclusive breastfeeding is only for poor mothers (thus transforming formula milk into something a mother should aspire to purchase); C) continued breastfeeding deforms a woman’s breasts or makes her look haggard and unattractive; and D) the act of breastfeeding in public invites a certain amount of shame and should be avoided.

No matter the prevailing conditions and norms in any society, nothing best embodies the miraculous ties between mother and child than the act of breastfeeding, BBB asserts.

To correct misconceptions and bring their strong and timely messages to life, a trio of smart and beautiful women, working for BBB’s advocacy in partnership with Unicef, has decided to speak out and recount their empowering experiences with exclusive breast-feeding. 

Here’s what they have to say on their commitment and real-life experiences:

Daphne Oseña-Paez

Media personality and UNICEF Special Advocate for Children Daphne Oseña-Paez is a proud advocate of exclusive breast-feeding in the Philippines. Through her work with UNICEF and BBB, Daphne shows mothers in the country how finding time to breast-feed exclusively is simply a matter of proper time-management and freely asking others for help whenever one needs it.

With her demanding schedule as a celebrity, entrepreneur, and child advocate, you might think Daphne relies on mixed-feeding or formula milk to nurse her three daughters. This, however, is hardly the case for her, and for nearly a decade now.

“I have three daughters,” she says, “Sophia is 7, Lily is 4, and Stella just turned 1—all were breastfed for at least 12 months. That seems a long time to be giving up my body for the sake of my children. But it hasn’t felt that way for me at all. These eight years have been the most beautiful and powerful time of my life.”

Why should a mother opt for exclusive breast-feeding until her infant is six-months old when there are more convenient alternatives?

“I don’t think I gave myself a choice… it was just natural,” Daphne says. “I never once considered giving my newborns milk formula.”

As to breast-feeding in public, which may be somewhat a performance or a subversive act, Daphne says: “I nursed my babies everywhere—in malls, restaurants, airports, cars, parks. I do not own a fancy cover-up bib. I simply use a shawl in places where I feel require discretion. People are still not comfortable seeing mothers nurse in public. But it is comforting to get smiles and approving nods from other mothers (and fathers) who are going through the same thing.”

The success of Daphne’s commitment relies a lot on the support of her family, her entire household, her doctors, colleagues and friends. “Everyone knows I am a breastfeeding mama,” she says, “I make it known to my friends and colleagues—so they can help me.”

Like most successful endeavors, exclusive breast-feeding requires collaboration and teamwork. Daphne made sure her house staff knew how to properly store and thaw the milk she pumped for future feedings. She also made her colleagues aware, during hectic shoots, that she needed to take periodic breaks to express milk. 

“They even sometimes stand as my human dressing room, holding up my shawl to help cover me up,” she says. “As much as I’d like to take credit for successfully breastfeeding all my three kids, I must admit I cannot do it without the help of the people around me.”

Patricia Hizon

Sportscaster Patricia Hizon, the first woman to host and anchor matches of the Philippine Basketball League (PBA), shares a tip to successfully breastfeeding newborns: a mother must have the complete support of her husband during the first six months of the nursing process.

As a woman who has covered all the Summer Olympic Games since 2000, Patricia clearly admires the excellence and stamina of the physical body and mind. She brings the same trust in the ability of a woman’s body to do awe-inspiring acts by joining BBB’s advocacy.

Breast-feeding exclusively is similar to a doubles tennis match. One must have the full support of one’s partner to earn every point. Luckily, Patricia is married to another sports enthusiast, basketball player Vince Hizon, who understands how her wife’s dedication to exclusive breast-feeding requires the same kind of coordination and balance found in sports.

In an interview published by ABS-CBN news online, Patricia said of Vince: “He’s very active. He knows how to store milk, locking the bottle, putting it in the bag, the order—first one in, out. He is as committed as I am.”

In the same interview, Patricia revealed that Vince was a soothing balm to her breast-feeding aches, especially when he would pamper and support her by placing pillows around her whenever the process made her feel tired.

“He would give her water to drink,” the report says, “as mothers are advised to drink glasses of water when breast-feeding. He also stays up late to take care of their baby to give her time to sleep.”

“That’s probably the second sweetest thing he’s done after he proposed in front of everyone,” Patricia said in the interview. She was referring to that moment at Araneta Coliseum when Vince proposed to her grandly in public during the halftime break of a match.

Iza Abeja

BBB’s executive director Iza Abeja, a 33-year old mother of two (Joaquin, 7; and Amina Isabelle, 4) admits that breastfeeding may be difficult and painful, especially when nursing firstborns. “Sometimes the milk won’t come out because the latching of the baby is wrong” she says, “this is why women need support and encouragement.”

As founder and head of BBB, Iza is doing just that, traveling around the country to support and encourage mothers to devote time and patience into correctly feeding their babies. Her advocacy is important in many ways. But perhaps no reason is more important than the health benefits exclusive breastfeeding provides both infant and mother.

According to UNICEF, mixed-feeding or feeding infants other liquids or foods before they reach six-months old is “nutritionally deficient, [and] can lead to health problems in young babies.” These problems may include allergies, respiratory infections, diarrhea, and dehydration. Also, infants who are not fed mother’s milk do not receive important antibodies that protect them from a host of diseases.

In addition, Iza reveals a natural weight-loss secret after giving birth. “I easily went back to my original figure before I got pregnant through exclusive breast-feeding alone. I did not diet or sweat through slimming exercises to get back into my old shape.”

Exclusive breast-feeding is one of the best ways to lose the weight a woman gains from pregnancy, she says. Women burn calories to produce milk, and they use up the extra fatty tissue layers their bodies naturally create while pregnant, in order to support the breastfeeding process they have to undergo after they give birth. With a proper balanced diet and exclusive breast-feeding, many women can lose their pregnancy-weight in as early as six weeks.

In addition, Iza is currently stepping up her advocacy by campaigning for extended breastfeeding, even until a child turns three to four years old. Because of this, Iza is focusing her efforts on maternity protection in the workplace as well. “Undernutrition is as much a problem of the labor sector as it is of the health sector,” Iza says. “Together with labor groups such as the Department of Labor and Employment and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines, BBB will campaign to turn breastfeeding into a labor and workplace issue.”

The 1st Breastfeeding Congress

In a declaration of commitment drafted a few days ago during the country’s first breastfeeding congress, BBB brings together various government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and celebrities to affirm their commitment to breastfeeding.

State departments such as DILG, DOH, and DOLE have reaffirmed their commitment to proper child nutrition through breastfeeding by supporting the BBB draft manifesto. The Employers Confederation of the Philippines and even male personalities like Larry Henares have also pledged their support to the declaration.

In the next years, BBB will be up on its toes to bring its advocacy to a wider audience, especially to mothers in both the countryside and urban centers who remain misinformed.

“The fight to promote, protect and support breastfeeding is a fight against poverty and malnutrition! No Filipino child should die because of health risks associated with infant formula and other practices that compromise the health of the Filipino child,” BBB avows.

BBB’s advocacy and programs are also supported by the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the UN World Food Programme, Save the Children, SM Cares, and the National Nutrition Council.



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