MILLIONS of Filipino children under the age of two are undernourished due to poor breastfeeding practices and with thousands of annual deaths, the government has launched an awareness campaign to tackle the problem head-on.
On Sunday, about 1,500 Philippine mothers convened at a Manila stadium for a government-backed mass breastfeeding event to combat child deaths.
With many wearing tiaras and superhero T-shirts, the mothers sat on the vast floor of the stadium, letting their babies suckle to the beat of dance music, the AFP reported. Some even fed two children at a time.
“Breastfeeding is love. It is difficult, but we do it for love,” said Abegirl Limjap, a pregnant 38-year-old property manager in a “Super Mom” superhero costume as she nursed her two boys, one aged five and the other 11 months.
Organiser Rose Padua said the annual event aims to draw public support for a government campaign to get more mothers to switch to breast milk from infant formula.
In Bohol province, 900 kilometers southeast of Manila, more than 300 lactating mothers simultaneously breastfed their babies for one minute on Saturday morning, the Inquirer reported.
A Mother, Dianne Pozon, 38, from Tagbilaran City, said brought along her three month-old son Joseph Niño because she did not want to miss out on the event.
“This is an event for all mothers and families,” the mother of five was quoted as saying.
Pozon believed breastfeeding benefited both the babies and mothers.
“I believe it is still the best source of nutrition and growth of infants,” she said. “Breastfeeding is still best for babies.”
The World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund have urged mothers to give breast milk to their children within the first hour of birth. They also recommend babies to be breastfed exclusively in the first six months of birth.
Around the world, however, three in five babies are deprived of early breastfeeding, putting them at higher risk of death and disease, according to the two UN agencies in a report earlier this year.
WHO data said 27 children out of every thousand died before the age of five in the Philippines in 2016.
Both agencies estimate about half of Filipino babies were initiated into early breastfeeding in 2013, barely changed from 46 percent in 2003.
“It’s an empowering moment,” said first-time mother Joyce Balido, 29, as she cradled her four-month-old girl at the mass breastfeeding event in Manila.
“It was very difficult to establish a milk supply at first. I am sleep-starved but I committed myself to have my daughter exclusively breastfed,” added Balido, an engineer.
The event organiser said dozens of other mass breastfeeding events were held in other Philippine cities over the weekend.
Additional reporting by the AFP