Breastfeeding and beyond

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Friday, August 1, 2014


IN THE Philippines and the United States, August of each year are commemorated as Breastfeeding Awareness Month in an effort to promote and encourage breastfeeding as the norm. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action establishes that breastfeeding practices contribute directly to the Millennium Development Goals like reducing infant mortality and decreasing maternal mortality.

In the Official Gazette of the Philippines, it has been cited that about 16,000 Filipino babies die yearly because of practices related to bottle-feeding, more than casualties in disasters or armed conflicts. Such statistics can be hair-raising especially for panicky and obsessive-compulsive new mothers like me.

On a personal note, I feel quite grateful and fulfilled to have taken a breastfeeding journey with my only daughter Sunis. I have been breastfeeding my baby for close to 30 months today. I exclusively breastfed throughout the duration of my maternity leave and started pumping for milk when I returned to work when Sunis was two and half months.

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I stopped pumping and retained night feedings and weekend feedings when my daughter turned two. I have tried traveling for about three or four days without really weaning Sunis, only to wake up each morning that I still have milk on my breasts though they do not leak that much anymore. Yes, Sunis doesn't really want to wean herself yet from me, and prefers breastmilk more than soya milk or cow’s milk.

The early days of breastfeeding left me rattled and stressed especially when my milk wouldn’t come out yet. Thank God for milk donors from neighbors and friends. It is sad to note that based on my personal experience at a hospital here in Pampanga that breastfeeding is still far from the norm. I was just lucky that my obstetrician-gynecologist and my baby’s pediatrician encouraged breastfeeding from the start and that I really psyched myself to be up to the challenge months before I gave birth. Otherwise, as soon as a baby lands in the private hospital’s nursery, she would have been given a dose of formula milk.

I feel privileged that breastfeeding advocacy is very strong in our city through the Council of Women led by Dr. Letty Yap and the City Government of San Fernando. Our City Hall is one of the few government offices in the region that has its own breastfeeding station for employees and constituents. When it was launched, I was the first to avail of this facility and currently there are are eight employees who are also avid breastfeeders. However, there is still a long way to go for breastfeeding awareness even in our midst. While resources, policies, and facilities are readily available like in the City Hall, there are still women who would choose not to breastfeed. I have observed that most of those who chose to continue their breastfeeding journey at work are already officers than rank and file employees. My friends who were successful in breastfeeding their babies mostly have their own businesses, have high paying jobs in the corporate world or went to graduate school. It makes me think that breastfeeding awareness may be linked to educational attainment to an extent.

Currently, breastfeeding is still far from the norm in my everyday social life. I speak based on what I have experienced. I also get stared at when I breastfeed in public. I have been asked to cover myself while doing my maternal duty to feed my child. I have breastfed at a mall’s dressing room since the breastfeeding station was very far and I didn’t have a privilege card. I used to pump milk at the bathrooms of the university where I enrolled, thank God they were really sosyal bathrooms! Some members of my extended family used to cringe at me when they see me breastfeed. Some well-meaning in-laws even asked me if it was absolutely necessary to extend breastfeeding.

I feel blessed and fulfilled on good days when I get approached by people who congratulate me for having successfully breastfed my baby and make me feel like it is quite an achievement, more than any medal I got throughout my academic life. Some of my friends send me photos or messages on Facebook to tell me that they have also started their own breastfeeding journeys.

I look forward to the day and age when breastfeeding, the most natural thing in the world to do, will be the most normal sight in communities everywhere. I’m glad I’m one of those who started breastfeeding the world, one baby at a time. Happy breastfeeding month!

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 02, 2014.

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