Lactating mothers from Los Baños, Calamba, and San Pablo participated in a breastmilk-letting activity on January 25 at Obdulia F. Sison Hall, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) conducted by LATCH (Lactation, Attachment, Training, Counseling, and Help) Los Baños.
LATCH Los Baños is among the many organizations serving as drop-off points of breastmilk donations for babies whose families are staying in evacuation sites after being displaced by the Taal Volcano eruption.
The activity at UPLB was conducted in partnership with the University Health Service and in coordination with the Department of Health and a network of breastfeeding advocates.
According to Lynette Carpio-Serrano, a LATCH Los Baños peer counselor and assistant professor at the UPLB College of Development Communication, it was the organization’s first time to conduct a breastmilk-letting activity in Los Baños.
“I think one main reason din why there is a milk donation drive is because there are recommendations from the DOH (Department of Health) and NNC (National Nutrition Council). There is something called the “milk code” which has recommendations kasi pagka may disasters, hindi iniencourage ang formula milk donations,” she said.
The Milk Code or Executive Order 51 is the law that protects and promotes breastfeeding in the Philippines. It regulates the industry of formula milk and other dairy products.
Carpio-Serrano added that formula milk donations are discouraged due to lack of access to potable water in disaster-struck areas, risk of age appropriateness of formula milk among infants and toddlers, and lack of clean preparation and sterilization of milk bottles. This is to avoid diarrhea and diseases.
Simultaneous with the breastmilk-letting activity was a session called “Our Wonderfully Made: A Breastfeeding Preparation Class.” It was attended by soon-to-be first-time mothers residing in Los Baños, Calamba, Calauan and Metro Manila. They went to the activity accompanied by their respective partners.
Breastfeeding mothers who attended the class were also encouraged to donate extra milk for babies in evacuation sites.
Armi Shyr Baticados, LATCH Los Baños coordinator, tackled the importance of breastfeeding as a vital emergency response.
“Kasi pagka ikaw ay kasama mo lang ang baby mo, may dala ka pang baby bottles, isipin mo, saan ka kukuha ng gatas?…it’s something you can do for your child that you have within you,” she said.
(Your baby is with you [in an evacuation site] and you have baby bottles with you, you will wonder where to get milk [formula]. It’s (breastfeeding) something you can do for your child that you have within you.)
Baticados mentioned that this disaster response is for the benefit of bottle-fed babies displaced by the Taal Volcano eruption and not breastfed children.
Zyla Monica Javier-Ostrea, 30, a first-time mother from Calamba, is one of the participants of the Breastfeeding Preparatory Class and a breastmilk donor. She shared with this reporter her sentiments about the importance of breastmilk and the need to donate milk for babies.
“Naki-emphatize ako dun sa mga mothers kasi bilang isang mother din, mahirap, mahirap parang di ko kayang makita na nagugutom yung anak ko…so yun nung nakita ko na may need ng breastmilk, nag-store lang ako, nag-built ako ng stash para makapag give-back,” she said.
(“I empathize with the mothers. As a mother myself, it is difficult seeing my child starving… That’s why when I heard about the need for breastmilk, I stored [my milk] and build up my stash that will enable me to give back.”)
She added that she came to a point where she wanted to give-up breastfeeding due to pain and formula milk preparation. She also thought that she would suffer from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression, according to the website of National Mental Health Institute, is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth. Mothers who experience this acquire the feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety and exhaustion or extreme tiredness.
Ruby S. Gonzales, 41, a resident from Brgy. San Antonio, Los Baños, and a database management specialist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is one of the peer counselors of LATCH Los Baños and one of the breastmilk donors.
A mother of four, Gonzales has been breastfeeding for 10 years now since giving birth to her first child. She has been a peer counsellor since 2016 and continues her personal advocacy of breastfeeding among mothers and mothers-to-be.
On the awareness-raising in breastfeeding, Generuth P. Santiago, 33, also a first-time mother, travelled all the way from San Pablo with her child and her husband to share her extra milk. She said that the breastmilk-letting activity is an instrument to raise awareness among the mothers regarding the benefits of breastmilk and its importance, especially in times of crisis, and she wants to encourage mothers who have already been feeding their child with formula milk to relactate and to educate them that breastmilk is better.
LATCH Los Baños posted in their Facebook account the guidelines for eligibility of donating breastmilk adapted from The Philippine Human Milk Banking Guidelines and Modern Nanays of Mindanao. This includes the following:
Lactating moms who are in good general health (HIV-free, Hepatitis-free and Syphilis-free) and capable of donating;
Must not be using any illegal/prohibited drugs, substances and tobacco products;
Did not donate blood for the past 6 months;
Did not consume more than 2 oz of hard liquor or 2 cans of regular beer or 8 oz of table wine within the last 24 hours;
Did not get accidentally pricked by a contaminated needle for the past 12 months;
No piercing and tattoo done for the past 12 months;
Has no recent exposure to radiopharmaceuticals used in diagnosting imaging or radiotherapy (e.g radioactive iodine)
Milk donors are also required to answer a standard screening interview form at the venue prior to donating.
There are two breastmilk collection methods: 1) on-site milk-letting via hand expression (donors may bring their own breast pump), and 2) donors bringing in frozen breastmilk stored in milk bags.
Collected milk should be handled properly. Proper storage may be in the following:
1. Stored in milk bags, labelled and dated
2. Stored in the freezer of a two-door refrigerator for no longer than six months
3. Stored in the freezer of a single-door refrigerator for no longer than three months
Milk donations, whether frozen or freshly expressed, are to be sent to the milk bank for screening and pasteurization for longer shelf life. These will be prepared for allocation and distribution to evacuation centers.
Distribution of breastmilk in evacuation centers is prioritized among premature babies and infants six months old and younger.
LATCH Los Baños is a non-profit organization in Los Baños that aims to educate women on proper breastfeeding, offers peer counselling to breastfeeding mothers, and helps raise awareness on the normalization of breastfeeding.
LATCH Philippines has been working with breastfeeding advocacy groups and conducted a disaster response during typhoon Yolanda in 2013.