MANILA, Philippines — It may not match the billions spent to promote commercial preparations but the Department of Health promised on Tuesday to step up its campaign to revive breast-feeding among Filipino mothers as it debunked myths that may be convincing parents to shift to infant formula.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said that the department will widen its information campaign to encourage more mothers to breast-feed their babies instead of spending thousands of pesos purchasing canned substitutes.
“We will be more aggressive because we see a window of opportunity to really market breast milk in the proper way, and that is by really bringing it down to the grassroots level,” said Duque on the sidelines of a forum on breast-feeding. “We have more resources to promote this, market this to the local government units and communities.”
As the DoH battled to implement stricter regulations on advertising formula milk, the department recently released a television ad conveying this simple message: animal milk is for animals and mother’s milk is for babies.
“We have one on TV now and we have print ads, posters, brochures in hospitals, health centers, city health centers, in the provincial hospitals, so we have put up posters to promote the culture of breast-feeding,” Duque said.
The health department is trying to reverse the downtrend in the country’s breast-feeding rate and hopes to have at least one of every two Filipino mothers (or 50 percent) breast-feeding by 2015.
The current national rate is 16 percent, a drop from 65 percent 15 years ago, according to Dr. Nicholas Alipui, United Nations Children’s Fund country representative.
The intensified information campaign was initiated even while the DoH awaited the Supreme Court’s decision on the formula milk industry’s objection to the implementation of the milk code, a stricter set of regulations banning ads promoting milk substitutes for children up to two years old.
The industry spends billions to promote formula milk through ads that often contain “false medical claims” said Alipui.
Emphasizing “the vast difference” between breast milk and baby formula, Alipui said milk from mothers had superior quality and contained nutrients and antibodies that would help raise children with strong immune systems.
“Breast milk is a living substance that is impossible to duplicate or replicate in industry…. No technology is capable of replicating or duplicating mother’s milk. That’s a fact. Any claim to the contrary is a lie,” Alipui said.
Standing by an earlier statement he made on the link between formula milk and childhood illness, Alipui said: “Breast-feeding saves lives. Not breast-feeding or the lack of breast-feeding increases children’s risk of illnesses and deaths.”
The doctor also dispelled the misconception that some mothers, especially those undernourished, would not be able to breast-feed.
“Nature has it in a way that even a woman who is nutritionally unfit produces milk to safeguard requirements of her baby even to her own detriment,” said Alipui.