Exclusive breastfeeding, a missed opportunity by half of Filipino infants – DOST-FNRI survey says

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At least half of Filipino infants in 2015 missed the health and nutritional benefits provided by breastmilk that is exclusively given by nursing mothers.  Exclusive breastfeeding is feeding of breastmilk alone to infants and young children without the introduction of solid or any other liquid food.

Among young infants 0 to 5 months old, exclusive breastfeeding was pegged at 48.8 percent according to the 2015 nutrition survey conducted by the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) which is down by 3.5 percentage-points from 2013 from 52.3 to 48.8 percent.

While it appears that global nutrition targets set forth by the World Health Organization (WHO) of increasing exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50 percent have been achieved over the last decade (exclusive breastfeeding was recorded at 29.7 percent in 2003), analysis by single age group showed a sustained decrease in exclusive breastfeeding among five-month old infants.

As seen in the DOST-FNRI’s 2015 nutrition survey, only 1 in 4 or 24.7 percent was exclusively breastfed among children five months old!  This is still a far cry from the World Health Assembly’s (WHA) global nutrition target to “increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months up to at least 50 percent”, considering the existence of Philippine laws in support of breastfeeding.

The Philippines is one of the early supporters of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, with its Executive Order No. 51 (more commonly known as Milk Code) signed in 1986 and the Revised Implementing Rules and Regulations (RIRR) or Administrative Order No. 2006-0012 in 2006.

This legal piece essentially aims to promote and protect breastfeeding practice via the regulation of the use of formula milk, breastmilk substitutes and products including feeding bottles and teats.

Heavily contested by milk companies, certain provisions of the Milk Code (E.O. 51) have been circumvented just so to penetrate the lucrative market of formula milk targeting local health workers and medical practitioners via sponsorships, for example attendance to health-related events.  The concept of “marketing” has since evolved and acquired a new face.

The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009 or Republic Act No. 10028 is another legal piece that supports continued breastfeeding among working mothers after availing of the maternity leave.

With the law essentially creating a favorable environment to breastfeed, it mandates the establishment of lactation stations in public and private offices as well as the provision of lactation breaks or the additional 40-minute break on top of the regular break for meals.  By doing so, the nursing mother is encouraged to breastfeed her child (if she chooses to bring the infant to the office) or express breastmilk to take home.

In a study conducted by the Nutrition Intervention Evaluation and Policy Section (NIEPS) of DOST-FNRI that assessed the implementation of Republic Act No. 10028, a high level of awareness on the importance of breastfeeding per se was voiced out by focus group discussants of partner-implementers of the law.

However, lapses were observed when it comes to awareness and understanding of their roles in the implementation of R.A. No. 10028.

In the DOST-FNRI 2013 national nutrition survey, breastfeeding knowledge among mothers is high, where 93.4 percent believed that breastfeeding is still the best feeding practice for babies.

But breastfeeding practice says otherwise, as the same survey disclosed that mothers did not breastfeed their babies due to inadequate milk flow (40.5 percent) and when work took them away from home (17.3 percent).

Based on the sustained decline in exclusive breastfeeding practice among five months old infants, the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN, 2017-2022) targets to “increase the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding from 24.7 percent in 2015 to 33.3 percent by 2022”.

The WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding from birth up to six months, after which, semi-solid foods are introduced to complement breastfeeding for up to two years or more.

Infant and young child feeding practices are included in the DOST-FNRI’s national nutrition surveys, in addition to tracking of nutritional status of population groups.  Data generated are used as basis for the development and evaluation of nutrition efforts in addressing pressing nutrition concerns.

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