How breastfeeding saved this mother and child after Typhoon Odette
"Even though everyone was getting sick, my baby never got severely ill."
When Gilla Capucanan got pregnant, she made a vow.
“I was separated from my own mother as an infant. I promised my child’s life would be different. I would be there for her no matter what,” remarks Gilla.
The first-time mother faced her first test when Typhoon Odette ravaged their town of San Jose in Dinagat Islands in December 2021.
“It felt like the end of the world. I was crying, thinking ‘my baby is too young to die.’ But I just kept singing to her, and she slept through the entire storm.
Amid the scarcity of resources after the typhoon, Gilla claims that breastfeeding saved her child.
“I didn’t have to spend on or look all over for formula milk,” Gilla recalls. “Breastmilk is more nutritious. Even though everyone was getting sick, my baby never got severely ill,” she added.
Gilla says breastfeeding also saved her as well by helping her recover from the psychological stress caused by the typhoon.
“When I breastfeed, talk to my baby and she’s looking up, only focused on me—it’s the best feeling. Our bond is stronger.”
Breastfeeding provides children the best start in life. It is a baby’s best source of nutrition, bolstering brain development with lifelong benefits for the mother and the baby.
Breastmilk even serves as the baby’s “first vaccine”. Early initiation of breastfeeding in the first hour of birth, exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) between 0-6 months, and giving of appropriate complementary food at 6 months with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years old, offer a powerful line of defense against infection and malnutrition.
Gilla was one of 27 mothers who attended the Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) seminar conducted by UNICEF and Samaritan’s Purse, as part of the humanitarian response for Typhoon Odette.
From the time a child is born, they should undergo Exclusive Breastfeeding (EBF)—that is, breastfeeding only without giving water, medicine, or nutritional supplements for six months or more. This is because breastmilk provides all the nutrients babies need.
Breastfeeding is especially important in emergencies, where limited access to clean water, electricity and any other foods and drinks can easily make young children sick.
In this session, the participants learned about complementary feeding. This is gradually adding a variety of soft and semi-solid nutritious food alongside continued breastfeeding when the infant reaches 6 months of age until they are 2 years old or beyond.
Gilla learned that complementary feeding need not be expensive. This is critical for someone recovering from the destruction of the typhoon. “I usually just feed my baby broth and greens, but I was taught it would be also good to add things like fish and kamote, which we have in our yard anyway.”
Gilla is thankful that organizations like UNICEF and Samaritan’s Purse responded so quickly. “They gave us guidance and assured us that, even in calamities, we’re not alone. We have support to continue breastfeeding.”
Even after the storm, Gilla acknowledges that there will continue to be challenges in her breastfeeding journey.
“There’s still some stigma associated with breastfeeding in public, but I am not ashamed. I’m a mother now. My only focus is my child.”
In the Philippines, workplaces, businesses and public places are required to have clean and safe lactation areas where mothers can breastfeed their child. However, Gilla opines that in reality, the dearth of breastfeeding areas is still an issue. “Of course you want your baby to be safe and comfortable, so sometimes I’ll buy something at a restaurant just so we have a place to sit at and feed.”
As Gilla eyes a return to the workplace and spending more hours away from her daughter, she admits “I’ve been tempted to switch her to the bottle. But I’ve resolved to make breastfeeding work because I want the best for her.”
“You never know what the future holds, who will leave or enter your life. But one thing that won’t change—I will always be there for my child.”