Sen. Pia: Encourage breastfeeding in evacuation centers

With the onset of the typhoon season and as the country marks ‘Breastfeeding Month’ this August, Senator Pia S. Cayetano renewed her call for local government units and relief workers to be mindful of the particular needs of women and children coping in disaster situations.

She said specific attention must be given to nursing mothers who take shelter in evacuation centers with their families at the height of disasters such as typhoons, floods and landslides.

“Nursing mothers must be encouraged to breastfeed while staying in relief centers and even after they return to their homes when the risk has subsided. This is to ensure that their children will continue to receive proper nutrition and protection against disease outbreaks from nutrients that could only be supplied by mother’s milk,” said Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography and Committee on Youth, Women and Family Relations.

“Our evacuation centers and relief efforts must be gender-responsive and ready to care for the particular needs of women and children since they are among the most vulnerable whenever disaster strikes and communities at risk are forced to evacuate,” she added.

It was Cayetano who pushed for the inclusion of ‘gender provisions’ in Republic Act 10121, also known as the ‘Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.’ The landmark law, which consolidates the government’s capability to plan and respond to reduce the risks of disasters, was passed by lawmakers in the 14th Congress, following the widespread destruction brought by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng two years ago.

Cayetano’s gender provisions in RA 10121 seek to enhance and implement a program where humanitarian aid workers and other sectors involved in disaster risk reduction work are educated and trained on how they can actively support breastfeeding before and during a disaster or emergency.

“We know that a breastfeeding mother supplies her infant with much needed nutrition in times of crisis. That is why it is of extreme importance that we promote breastfeeding prior to disasters and protect breastfeeding during and after a disaster,” she explained.

She pointed out that some socio-civic groups have routinely offered to donate infant formula to mothers in evacuation centers, but she cautioned that this practice might also discourage breastfeeding among the mothers in the long run.

“It is especially difficult to use infant formula in disaster conditions where water sources may be contaminated and unsafe and will just put infants at more risk, especially to diarrhea and its complications. It is also important to note the fact that once the mother stops breastfeeding, her infant loses that unique anti-infection property only breast milk can provide.”

She cautioned that mothers who become dependent on infant formula while staying in evacuation centers could eventually stop producing milk and face difficulties once they return to their own homes where they won’t have access to infant formula. #