MANILA, Philippines - After sportscaster Patricia Bermudez-Hizon gave birth to her first son, she was faced with one of the toughest challenges of being a mother: breast-feeding--exclusively.
Exclusive breast-feeding means that the baby will only drink mother’s milk--no formula, no water--for the first 6 months.
Patricia’s mother resides in Canada while husband Vince Hizon’s family is settled in the United States. The motherly advice would come once in awhile but most of the time, the two are on their own. Patricia, however, is lucky since Vince is very supportive during this phase.
|Patricia Bermudez-Hizon with husband Vince and their newborn baby.
It was an ordeal but the choice to exclusively breast-feed their 2 sons was easy for the couple. “Vince and I are both breast-fed so we never had a discussion. It was automatic for us,” she said.
Exclusive breast-feeding, however, is practiced by a few mothers in the Philippines. Although 88% of Filipino women breast-feed their babies, only 34% practice exclusive breast-feeding.
Figures from the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) show that around 47.8% of Filipino mothers choose bottle feeding as an alternative for breast-feeding.
This can be attributed to numerous reasons: 1) work, 2) breast-feeding myths and misconceptions, 3) active formula advertisements, and 4) lack of breast-feeding-friendly environment.
“Mothers need the support of their husbands, the family, and the community in breast-feeding,” said Iza Abeja of Brains, Beauty, and Breast-feeding Inc., a lactation consultant support non-government organization.
“Breast-feeding is hard and painful, especially for firstborns. Sometimes the milk won’t come out because the latching of the baby is wrong,” Abeja added. “[That is why] Women need encouragement.”
Exclusive breast-feeding is a commitment, shared TV host Daphne Oseña-Paez, UNICEF Special Advocate for Children and breast-feeding advocate. “It is hard at the beginning. It hurts. Every baby needs a different latch, that is why you need people to support you,” she said.
|Daphne Osena Paez (shown in photo with her baby) said breast-feeding is a commitment.
Patricia’s husband Vince is very supportive of exclusive breast-feeding, she narrated in a press conference. The cager knew how to bottle and preserve the milk, and even personally prepares the “breast-feeding paraphernalia” of coolers, bags, tapes, water, and tissues for Patricia.
“He’s very active. He knows how to store milk, locking the bottle, putting it in the bag, the order--first one in, out. He is as committed as I am,” she said.
At home, Vince and Patricia have a nursing position wherein she sits in front of him and he scoops the baby from behind. When her arms are aching, Hizon would always support their baby while she breast-feeds him.
When she is aching from breast-feeding, Vince would place pillows to make her comfortable. He would get her water to drink, as mothers are advised to drink glasses of water when breast-feeding. He also stays up late to take care of the baby to give her enough time to sleep.
“That’s probably the second sweetest thing he’s done after he proposed in front of everyone,” she shared. “I really feel proud that I was able to do that as we were figuring things out on our own. It was easy to get everybody to help us.”
Aside from husbands, the family and the community should also be supportive.
Earlier this year, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the Expanded Breast-feeding Act of 2009 or the Republic Act 10028. The Act provides tax incentives to all government offices and private establishments for allotting “lactation stations.”
The stations are designated areas where mothers can nurse their children or store breast milk into bottles. Each station should have the necessities: lavatory for hand washing, refrigeration or appropriate cooling facilities for storing breast milk, electrical outlets for breast pumps, a small table, comfortable seats, and other useful items.
The lack of lactation stations usually encourages mixed feeding.
According to UNICEF, mixed feeding or the introduction of other liquids or foods before 6 months is “nutritionally deficient, [and] can lead to health problems in young babies such as allergies, respiratory infections, diarrhea, dehydration and even death.”
In 2006, SM Supermalls initiated the creation of breast-feeding stations in their malls and has recorded around 10 to 15 mothers using the facility when it initially opened. Currently, the mall giant has reported serving 63,000 mothers and are planning to expand as only 3 to 5 mothers can use the stations at the same time.
What is equally important in successful exclusive breast-feeding is the relationship between wife and husband, and even the whole household. A couple should break the barrier and the notion that breast-feeding is only a responsibility of the mother.
According to Oseña-Paez, the husband should be given a role in the breast-feeding process, whether it is as simple being responsible for letting the baby burp afterwards.
“My breast-feeding was successful because of the support from my husband. I always tell him: 'You’re lucky you don’t have to buy milk,'” she quipped. “Breast-feeding is a whole household process. It’s important to get everyone involved.”
Patricia agrees. “Majority of my success came from Vince’s support.”
“I think lots of couples have the same relationship as Vince and I. Only, there are more that don’t,” she added. “The key is to properly communicate to husbands the importance of breast-feeding, to make them realize that the breast, among other things, is also used for nurturing a child.”
Photos courtesy of UNICEF Philippines