Evacuation centers must support breastfeeding and provide mother- and child-friendly spaces
On Friday, I launched a breast milk bank at Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center – the first of its kind in the Visayas. This is in connection with my advocacy to promote breastfeeding, and is also consistent with the mandate of RA 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Act, which I sponsored.
Six years ago, I spoke at the launch of the Lactation Unit and Human Milk Bank at the Philippine General Hospital. A year later, I led the launch of the country’s first community milk bank in Makati City, where the collected milk was transferred to Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial. Thereafter, we’ve sponsored several community breastmilk-letting activities, not only to help the Fabella Hospital and PGH milk banks, but also to promote breastfeeding among Filipino mothers.
This event served as an opportunity to meet and share ideas with health workers and pregnant moms. I reiterated the need to promote breastfeeding and to start immediately after birth. Not only is breast milk best for babies, it is also the most affordable way to feed an infant.
The breast milk bank will provide precious breast milk for babies who do not have access to their mother’s milk. The VSMMC will run the facility where nursing mothers can donate their milk and have it stored in the bank for other babies in need.
When the hospital administrator and medical staff lamented the lack of space in the maternity ward, I proposed putting up a separate birthing center to decongest the main hospital. I was happy to hear that there were already such plans. The idea is to provide a separate place for mothers who are expecting normal deliveries without complications. This birthing center will be manned by trained midwives and supervised by the doctors. The tertiary hospital and the specialists can then focus on the deliveries with complications, which is really their mandate and where their expertise can best be put to use.
After the discussion, we visited the maternity ward. At present, it’s a 4:1 ratio of mothers with their babies to a bed. Can you imagine that? I’ve been here and to many other maternity wards before. The scenarios are almost always identical – overcrowded. I think the pictures below say it all.
Despite this situation, many mothers seemed relatively happy. Most of them were doing well and starting to breastfeed. I shared some personal advice about breastfeeding, just some tips and tricks that worked for me.
What broke my heart was seeing so many teen moms. I looked into the eyes of these children having children of their own. Every single one I spoke to had not finished grade school. I don’t know what kind of future they will have. I tried to talk to as many of them as I could, encouraging them to go back to school so they can provide a better future for their child. I talked to them about planning their family and not getting pregnant again any time soon in order to take better care of their baby and also prepare for their future. They just nodded in response, with blank looks on their faces.
I have to admit I left with a heavy heart. RA 10354 or the Reproductive Health Law is meant to address issues such as teen pregnancies. And yet, many still do not understand, or else they refuse to see, that without information, so many of our youth will continue to get pregnant before they become adults, some even before they finish grade school.
Another problem that still persists is our high maternal mortality rate – that is, mothers dying due to childbirth-related complications. Again, the Reproductive Health Law seeks to address this by providing support for family planning and the needs of pregnant women.
Despite the setbacks in the implementation of the law, I am hopeful that with each small step that we take, such as the establishment of the breast milk bank and eventually the new birthing center, we will slowly address these problems. It is just disappointing that our progress is delayed, and as we await the Supreme Court hearing, mothers and newborns will continue to die, and teenagers will continue to get pregnant with little hope for a brighter future.