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  • Pediatrician Explains Why Formula Milk Donations Are Illegal (How To Help Instead)

    During the enhanced community quarantine, it's more important to support breastfeeding.
    by Rachel Perez .
Pediatrician Explains Why Formula Milk Donations Are Illegal (How To Help Instead)
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Well-meaning individuals have donated or called for donations for infant or toddler milk formula. Their heart is in the right place, especially since the target of these donations are low-income families whose livelihood was affected by the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Under Philippine law, it's illegal to donate milk products or breast milk substitutes during calamities and emergencies, such as this currently imposed ECQ.  

    “Milk formula donation drives are not allowed,” pediatrician Dr. Anthony Calibo, manager of the National Newborns Care and Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) Program of the Department of Health (DOH), confirms SmartParenting.com.ph via email.

    The Milk Code (Executive Order 51) and related laws, such as the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion (Republic Act 10028), and the Kalusugan at Nutrisyon ng Mag-Nanay Act (Republic Act 11148), prohibit donations of “infant formula, breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles, artificial nipples, and teats” for children ages 0 to 3.

    The DOH Administrative Order (AO) 2006-0014 or the National Policies on Infant and Young children states that breastfeeding is the first and best feeding option for infants and young children. Mothers and babies should remain together, even during emergencies and difficult situations, and be provided with support so that they can feed their children appropriately.

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    Why formula milk donations are not allowed

    “Families who have babies who are exclusively breastfeeding do not need infant milk formula donations,” Dr. Calibo wrote on Facebook last April 9, 2020. “These donations may unintentionally change behaviors of certain women (and family members) to stop breastfeeding and instead get these milk formula donations, thinking that it will be such a waste not to get them as they are ‘free,’” he explained.

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    Even mothers who are mixed feeding and have been given donated infant milk formula “will end up discontinuing more her breastfeeding” and eventually stop and “be dependent on infant milk formula,” said Dr. Calibo, who is also a dad.

    He emphasized that giving out infant, “follow-on” and “growing up” milk formula products are “only good for the short term” and is “not sustainable.” Poor households don't have the means to sustain formula milk feeding once started. They sometimes resort to diluting it, which then causes the child to become malnourished or to get hospitalized due to inappropriate feeding practices.

    What to do to help instead of donating formula milk

    Instead of giving cans of formula milk, Dr. Calibo recommends “community organization and mobilization for breastfeeding support,” which is more important during these trying times. Individuals, non-government organizations (NGOs), and civil society organizations (CSOs) who want to help young children of poor families can instead donate cash to social welfare offices of local government units (LGU).

    Cash donations will be used to procure nutrient-rich foods for breastfeeding mothers and other baby essentials and distribute them only to those who need it. If needed, LGU social welfare offices “can buy infant milk formula based on the listing of the population from barangay midwives and nutrition scholars,” Dr. Calibo revealed.

    “Not all of these babies in the community are in need of infant milk formula. Administration or distribution of these purchased infant milk formula has to be well-supervised by trained health workers and/or volunteers, and should not be done indiscriminately,” he wrote. “Nutrition and hand hygiene counseling should be emphasized at all times,” Dr. Calibo added.

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    How to ensure babies can continue to receive proper nutrition

    “Mothers who are already giving milk formula to their children can continue to give these,” Dr. Calibo clarifies. He added there is no law prohibiting mothers from giving milk formula to their children if they want to and if they have been “well informed of the risks and harm of infant formula feeding.”

    Dr. Calibo also addressed in his Facebook post how parents can ensure young childsren still gets adequate nutrition during ECQ:

    1. “Families who have infants who are not being exclusively breastfed, especially those solely on milk formula since birth, and those who are mixed feeding, can continue to buy these in designated retail stores that are open even during the quarantine,” Dr. Calibo wrote.

    2. “Families who may have financial difficulties to buy infant milk formula may avail of existing, or newly-developed LGU and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) financial assistance programs during COVID-19 meant to assist these families with infants and young children in need.”

    3. “If a mom still has breast milk and her child is 6 months and up, she can continue breastfeeding. If she thinks that her breast milk is no longer as many as before, then focus on giving more solids instead of thinking about what milk to buy."

    4. “Families with infants and young children age 6 months and up should prioritize giving and buying food products instead of buying follow-on or growing-up milk products,” he added. Dr. Calibo also suggests buying food to be cooked, which is more cost-beneficial to all family members.

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    If you really want to donate cans of formula milk, make sure a group or someone has a permit to distribute “donated milk formula products.” Check the DOH Center for Health Development (CHD) regional offices.

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