Saturday, June 30, 2007

Best milk

NEVER have breasts been milked for all their worth.

A battle royal raged last week when breastfeeding advocates and health officials clashed against milk companies over the lifting of the temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Milk Code.

Signed in 1986, the Milk Code had its revised rules issued in 2006. The TRO has stayed the Code's stiffer rules, such as the ban on ads for breast milk substitutes.

What makes the issue riveting from the start are the evenly matched combatants. In one corner are the pharmaceutical and milk giants, with their marketing spin doctors, lobbyists, and bottomless budgets.

Not outdone and never good to underestimate is the tandem of government and non-government advocates, specifically the 21 women flashing their breasts outside the Supreme Court where oral arguments on the Milk Code are being heard.

Street parliamentarians command the streets like no other. But if last week's lightning demo was a “masterstroke,” it is only in the sense of sensationalizing the cause.

It should hardly be viewed as a substantial, penetrating and sustained campaign to get more women to recognize and choose breast milk as the “gold standard” for infant nutrition, natural and lifelong immunity from some diseases, and early mother-child bonding.

Arugaan Foundation and Save the Babies Coalition--whose members took part in the rally--may have seen painting slogans on breasts as our gender's answer to the ritualistic face- and body-painting carried out by primitive men readying for the hunt or battle, or modern diehards brawling for their team.

But by baring breasts without any hungry infant in sight, the NGOs' breastfeeding advocacy gets lost in translation.

Ours is no longer an innocent time when every child and grown-up sees breasts in their biological progression--from flat as a board for children and men to the peaks coaxed by adolescence, the fullness of pregnancy and lactation, and the resignation of advancing years.

Instead of overturning stereotypes, the sloganeering conducted outside the Supreme Court just abets the mentality that nails breasts up on billboards higher than a four-story building so liquor and jeans can be sold to commuters.

In the Age of the Celebrity Cleavage, how can the best-intentioned breast compete with its virtual cousins--augmented, airbrushed, pushed upwards and outwards, pendulous with associations, as imaginary as mirages?

For it is not just the milk lobby marginalizing the boob--slashed it from the primary stream of feeding babies--but also business and media, the demands of materialism pushing women to work away from home and cutting short the ideal of breastfeeding for the first two years, and the perceptions of girls and women about beauty and being.

In these image-addicted times, it is not the breast activist on the streets but that small round head latched on to the areola of one of the two moons that should be the iconic image.

Photos of breastfeeding, en masse or alone or in tandem--seen lately was a wire photo of a Filipina nursing her twins simultaneously--cause a phantom pricking even in breasts that have forgotten the suck, nip and bite of a newborn's gums.

There is more to breastfeeding than colostrum, yielded during the first few days and rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals and immunity factors found in no other source.

Watching that yellow liquid, turn whitish later, trickle from a tiny mouth, silent and sated for the moment but quick to purse, is to quicken in answer, with a prick that's more than reflex, stronger than desire, older than hunger, a hardening, a loosening, and finally, the gush and flow of warmth, enveloping, drenching, mingling, all anguish, separateness, ownership, possession, and finally, abdication to a tiny mouth ringed in white.

To give the breast is to feel, without even knowing, that this milk is best. 091763226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 24, 2007 issue

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