For mothers to successfully breastfeed up to the age of 2 years old and beyond, she needs the support from those around her -- her family, her community, her workplace, healthcare institutions, and the government. Here is what we can all do to help and protect the breastfeeding mom.
#1 Let your family know they can help with your breastfeeding success. It's why pregnant women are encouraged to attend breastfeeding classes together with their husband/partner, family and/or other caregivers. Attending classes helps give moms and their families the correct information regarding breastfeeding, which motivates them, gives them confidence and assures them that they are giving the best start to their new baby.
According to Kaye Abellon, a new mom to a 3 week old boy, “My husband’s support has been essential to the success of my breastfeeding experience especially during the first two weeks after delivery, when I was struggling with balancing postpartum pain, sleepless nights and uncertainty of whether or not I was breastfeeding correctly.”
#2 Breastfeeding support groups provide moms a safe space. Breastfeeding may be one of the most natural things, but it has its challenges. From physical to online communities, mothers are now fortunate to find the much needed support in her decision to breastfeed. Support groups such as Arugaan, Breastfeeding Pinays, L.A.T.C.H. Philippines, South PiNanays and Modern Nanays of Mindanao not only provide emotional support but also have trained counselors who hold breastfeeding classes and offer counselling services for mothers who need help and assistance during their breastfeeding journey.
As Bing Sugue-Guevara, a mother of two boys and a founding admin of Breastfeeding Pinays, puts it, “Find your tribe, your community, because this community will be your cheering squad and give you encouragement, be your shoulder to cry on and be an ear to listen.”
#3 Find a doctor who respects and understands your wishes. Soon-to-be moms should find a healthcare provider and institution that will provide her with the correct information and support to help achieve her goal to breastfeed. Go around and interview a few ob-gyns and pediatricians. Prepare a birth plan that specifies your wishes (such as practicing Unang Yakap, breastfeeding initiation, rooming-in, etc.) and discuss this with your 0b-gyn and pediatrician.
According to Dr. Teresa Maria Ribaño, a pediatrician and IBCLC who is on the breastfeeding committee of both Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital, “It is important for mothers to have a good relationship with their doctors. Mothers should not be afraid to talk to their doctors because it is their health at stake and more importantly their child’s health especially since children cannot advocate for themselves.”
#4 Educate yourself and your company about your breastfeeding rights. Companies are required by law to put in place breastfeeding support and lactation workplace policies. Some of the minimum requirements include a lactation room and 40-minute lactation break. You may provide your employer with copies of The Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act (RA10028) so they are better informed and prepared for when you return from your maternity leave.
Jencel Marcial-Anguluan, a working mother, said, “Having a supportive workplace helped in my ability to continue to nurse my 4-year-old son.” She is fortunate enough to be part of IBM Philippines, which provide their breastfeeding employees with a milk delivery service and a flexible work schedule. A supportive work environment is crucial because in the Philippines, 66.6 percent of total employed women fall in the breastfeeding age group.
#5 Write to your province's government representatives to fight for you. The Philippines has very strong legislation in place that supports breastfeeding, Aside from RA 10028, we have The Rooming-In and Breastfeeding Act of 1992 (RA 7600), and the National Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, Breastmilk Supplement and Other related Products (Executive Order 51). However, the government needs to improve the implementation and monitoring. Another area that needs further improvement is maternity leave (ML).
Currently, the Philippines extends women employed in the private sector 60 days of leave for normal spontaneous delivery and 78 days of leave for cesarean section delivery. Those employed in the public sector are given only 60 days. Providing for longer maternity leave is crucial. Many women usually stop breastfeeding in preparation for their return to work. Adding more days to the maternity leave will help with a longer and more successful breastfeeding. (Read here our reasons for a longer maternity leave.)
There are pending bills in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, authored by Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Cong. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, respectively, that aims to extend maternity leave to at least 100 days. It seems to have been put in the back burner because of lack of political backing.
Breastfeeding moms can help influence government by writing to their LGU’s and their representatives to either pass or implement more ordinances and laws. Political will is necessary not only to pass laws but more so to inform employers and society of the benefits of providing more support for breastfeeding women.
Successful breastfeeding is not just the responsibility of the mother. We all need to unite to protect and support a breastfeeding mom.
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Nina P. Atienza is a wife and a mom to four kids who works full-time for a local pharmaceutical company. She also founded South PiNanays, a parenting support group to help moms in their motherhood journey. Nina is also a trained breastfeeding peer counselor.