Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tale of two nipples

IF informed choice is good for reproductive health, why not for breastfeeding and breast milk substitutes?

The logic seems clear enough. According to an unattributed article published in The Philippine Star’s Aug. 23, 2012 issue, the nongovernment organization (NGO) Women Involved in Nation-Building (WIN) supports the congressional proposal to amend the Milk Code of the Philippines.

A WIN spokesperson said that while the NGO considers mother’s milk as the “platinum standard for infant nutrition,” it asserts that “The Breastfeeding and Milk Regulation Act” will “safeguard and promote women’s rights to proper knowledge and information that will help lead mothers to numerous options”.

What is lacking in the range of options currently available to mothers? Information and access to breast milk substitutes is banned or constrained by the Milk Code. For instance, WIN cites the donations of milk formula and other infant food products that were turned away from evacuation centers at the height of the recent monsoon rains and flash floods that hit Metro Manila and surrounding cities.

If passed into law, House Bill 3537, or the proposed Act to Promote Comprehensive Program on Breastfeeding Practices in the Philippines, will allow milk donations during disasters and emergencies. The proposal to amend the Milk Code is authored by Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro), Josephine Lacson-Noel (Malabon), Magtanggol Gunigundo (Valenzuela), Anna Bondoc (Pampanga), Lani Mercado (Cavite), and Lucy Torres (Leyte).

I, too, agree that women’s right to informed choice must be upheld. Yet, if circumstances, such as evacuation conditions, poor health and others, decrease the attractiveness or convenience of breast milk, I don’t believe the solution is to shift focus on other options.

I believe in working harder at nursing one’s child.

The Milk Code is that rarity in the Philippines: a law that’s being implemented. Because it is followed, the policy creates a structure and an environment that supports the delivery of the benefits provided for by law.

In September 1993, I gave birth to our first born in a government hospital. My older son was a lusty 10-pounder who developed an instant dislike for my breasts. Despite swallowing an ocean’s worth of clam soup and imbibing other folk recipes for copious milk during my nine months of waiting, I could not squirt anything but a few drops of colorless liquid into my son’s tiny but endlessly rooting mouth.

It did not help at all that I did not slide gracefully into motherhood the first time. A last-minute C-Section gave me a seven-inch incision. Trial labor left me with hemorrhoids. And after nine months of anticipation, I was wrestling with this small ill-tempered tyrant who slapped away my aching breasts, kicked at my fresh sutures, and howled blue murder for the world’s earliest case of enforced fasting.

In 1993, there was no rooming-in policy. I went to the nursery for my son’s feeding. While my son protested and I struggled to muster son, breasts, sutured belly and post-partum depression, a gallery of baby visitors witnessed my breastfeeding misadventures. After a month, I gave in to mixed feeding.

The bottle, with its superior silicone liquid rubber nipple and gushing supply of infant formula milk, handily won the battle of teats. After I got replaced in my son’s affections by a 1.8-kilo can of infant formula milk, my own milk trickled and dried up.

In 1998, my second son made his appearance. I was the same flat-chested me, except five years older and more stressed by teaching, writing and tutoring my first-born. Yet, with age came experience. I no longer panicked when eight pounds of appetite made their imperious demands. The weak-looking initial trickle of breast milk I now knew as colostrum, an important source of immunity-enhancing antigens.

What made a difference, too, was the change of government policy. Rooming-in gave my son and I more privacy for nursing. No breast milk substitutes were allowed. No cute baby books from milk company sponsors. No milk handouts and cartoon character-decorated feeding bottles to give overwrought mothers a break.

Nature gave me two breasts; my son and I found a use for these for more than two years. Practice, not formula, makes perfect.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebus August 26, 2012 issues of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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