Senator Pia Cayetano

August is Breastfeeding Month

Privilege speech on Breastfeeding Month

For almost 20 years, I’ve delivered a breastfeeding speech in August. It is personal to me as a breastfeeding mom and the policy issue I’ve been advocating for years.

But, Mr. President, much has changed over the years, we’ve passed laws that promoted breastfeeding and raised awareness. Social media has also helped the younger generation of mothers and fathers proceed with breastfeeding and allowed it to be more acceptable, in the sense that many mothers would tend to be embarrassed to breastfeed outside the confines of their homes.

But I’ve also noticed, Mr. President, that there is a younger generation of fathers here in the Senate, including the Senate President, who are now role models of being supportive fathers and husbands. And I’d like to commend every single one of you. And there is a serious reason for that.

May I just say, the gentleman sitting beside me, Sen. Bato, is always the first one to raise his hand when I ask for volunteers… When I was a new senator, I was in my 30’s, a lot of gentlemen in the Senate laughed when I talked about breastfeeding. It is not a laughing matter but I had experienced that, and I was offended. But I was too young to speak up in a way to show that I was offended. So I proceeded with my job, and I am just so happy that I now work with younger or older gentlemen in the Senate..[who are] very supportive.

So why does breastfeeding need to be discussed on the Senate floor? Is it a subject of legislation? Yes it is, and I’ll get to that in a while. But considering that it is the best way to nourish an infant, and it is a natural immunization, more so it should be discussed because there are policy issues involved.

I would like to share my personal breastfeeding journey, and I hope that through my own experience, I can illustrate the challenges that a mother goes through just to breastfeed her baby, which should be the most natural thing in the world.

So when I was pregnant, Mr. President, I decided that I should buy my own books, because I did not grow up learning about it in school. Yes we had science education, but no one talked about the benefits of breastfeeding. Thankfully, I saw my mom breastfeed my brothers, but other than knowing that for a fact and having a general idea that it was good for infants, I didn’t know anything else. So I bought books, and books, and books.

Interestingly, the doctors did not tell me to breastfeed. My OB actually said to me, it’s up to me, pwedeng yes pwedeng no. She’s very nice, very senior, but she did not in any way tell me that there are so many benefits to it. Walang ganun, Mr. President. My pediatrician naman was very supportive.

So, I gave birth and breastfed on day one, and I breastfed throughout my entire 60-day maternity leave. As a runner, I had no guidance, I did not know how I could continue running while breastfeeding an infant, and wala pang cellphone noon, so what I would do is I would breastfeed and run for only 30 minutes because my baby might get hungry while I’m still out running and my mom would go crazy because we did not have infant formula in the house. I specifically did not purchase infant formula with the intention of sticking to my plan to breastfeed. So I did this on my own. Marami dyan, kapa-kapa lang.

Meanwhile, I lived in Taguig with my brother, Alan. It was a 2-bedroom house and my mom pretty much moved into Alan’s room and was his roommate during the entire time of my maternity leave and a few months after to help me take care of my baby because I was fully breastfeeding. So habang nag-aaral si Alan, ang mommy ko, pinapatulog niya ang baby ko, at binibigay sa akin kapag umiiyak na dahil ako naman ang magpapakain.

So after 60 days, I went back to work, and I was so blessed to work in a law office, Castillo-Laman Tan-Pantaleon law offices, where they were very supportive, considering that I was the first associate and probably the first employee to [breastfeed] while working.

So how did that work? I took phone calls on speaker phone while manually using a pump. Wala pa akong electric pump that time. I locked my door, I was blessed enough to have my own room, made sure the curtains were closed so that no one could see me, and alert my secretary that if my door is locked and my curtains are down, no one could come in but I could take phone calls. And then I proceeded to take the bottle of freshly pumped milk in the common freezer. But then shortly after, nangamoy ulam ang breastmilk na ibibigay ko sa baby ko. So after that, I decided to bring my own cooler [for storing breast milk]. So that was my life for a few months, into actually a whole year. I proudly breastfed my two daughters for a whole year.

After my second daughter, I had a baby who had multiple disabilities and had a cleft lip but I also breastfed him. I breastfed him, I pumped my milk and it was given to him through a tube, that went straight down to his stomach because my son could not digest milk or anything else.

So if anyone went through the difficulties of breastfeeding, I am sure a lot of mothers would have other stories to tell, but I had my own, which I wanted to spread into the record. Because this is what encouraged me to make legislation that would help mothers breastfeed as long as they wanted to.

So quick history: when I became a senator, there was already EO 51, this is known as the Philippine Milk Code, and what it does is it regulates the marketing of infant milk formula. I could leave it at that, but I would like to share the knowledge I learned in my first year in the Senate. This is so critical because dear colleagues. What happened in many hospitals, both government and private is that infant formula companies would give, even donate, their milk to hospitals for the newborns, and interfere with what should have been a natural breastfeeding process.

For the information of those who are not familiar, breastfeeding supply is based on supply and demand. The more the mother breastfeeds, the more milk she would produce. So kapag binigyan mo ng infant formula yan, mababawasan ang pagbigay niya ng sariling gatas, dahil may ibang napapagkunan and unti-unting mawawala ang kanyang breastmilk supply. So that is why kailangan ma-regulate ang marketing of infant formula.

The other thing is, dear colleagues, and I hope when you go home tonight, tomorrow, you look around, you’ll see a lot of advertisements of brands that claim na tatalino ang baby nila doon sa gatas na yun. Hindi po totoo yun. Ang totoo, tatalino ang baby niyo doon sa gatas ng ina. Yun ang pinaka-effective. Yun talaga yun. So we also want to ensure that the marketing also goes through the highest standard.

When I became a senator in 2004, there was also a 1992 law, RA No. 7600, or the Rooming-In and Breastfeeding Act, which was adopted by no less than my idol, the late Senator Ed Angara. I was quite surprised because I expected maybe somebody like Sen. Flavier, but when I learned that it was Sen. Angara who passed it, it was very heartening for me that a male senator was actually the one who passed it. And having already given birth, I realized how important this is. This law basically says that in every hospital, immediately upon birth, kailangan itabi ang baby sa mommy para agad-agad maka-breastfeed. So this law was really a game changer, your honor.

And I also learned, I’d say parliamentary procedures through the late senator, because my bill was actually called by another name, and he very statesman-likely guided me in the amendments of my bill so that it would be simply an amendment to the existing RA 7600, which he authored. He just helped me make this bill flow better, a very important lesson as a new senator.

So that is the Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act (Ra 10028) that I already am talking about, which basically provided new features to the Rooming-In Act and under the Breastfeeding Promotion Act, I would say the critical features here are the setting up of lactation centers in public places and private and government offices. Again, this was, and I believe is still a game changer. When you look around, and those of you, for the gentlemen here with young wives, they can find a lactation or breastfeeding room in the malls. You can now find it in the airport. You can even find it in terminals for ferries, I actually saw a beautiful one in Bohol terminal years ago. So this makes it easier for mothers to continue breastfeeding.

I have had the experience of having to lock myself in a restroom that had its own door and about 20 people banging on the door to tell me to get out of the room because I was breastfeeding. And I understand, they needed to use the toilet, but during those days, there were no breastfeeding rooms, your honor, so this is just the kind of change that makes lives better for breastfeeding moms.

In addition, in the workplace, this law also provided for lactation breaks. It’s basically 40 minutes in addition to your usual meal breaks. I would’ve wanted more, I tried to push for more, but we tried to strike a balance with industry that obviously was hesitant to give more breaks to their staff. But now, it is a right of every breastfeeding mother to use an additional 40 minutes to pump her milk and take it home to her baby.

And at this point, I would like to point out that… we need to implement our laws in our own home. So the Senate actually has its own lactation room. We put this up I think around 2014-2015. It’s on the 5th floor and I’d like to include here my request that the GAD office place posters as they did before in the entrance to the Senate, so that resource persons, other persons who have business in the Senate, know that they can use that room. I’ve actually had the opportunity to be thanked by a resource person, this was pre-COVID, who was very happy to sit in on a 6-hour hearing. There was a lactation room that she could go to in the Senate.

And when I was a member of the House, I also worked with the Secretariat to put up a lactation room, and this was continued by Sen. Alan Cayetano when he was Speaker of the House.

It is very important for these kinds of laws to be supported and implemented on the ground. And I am very happy to see other examples, and the example I will give is, of course, Taguig. In Taguig City, the Taguig hospital has actually received, way back in 2013, almost 10 years ago, recognition as a mother- and baby-friendly hospital. And there is a 10-point requirement to be able to do that. I am sure there are others, I am just aware of the one in Taguig, and I hope DOH will make this public so that we can also acknowledge the other hospitals that are compliant. And for those that are not, may I call on the DOH to work closely with the city health officials of various cities and provinces to bring them up to speed.

The success of breastfeeding will really depend on the people who are surrounding the mother who can continue to encourage her to breastfeed. It is actually the cheapest way to nourish a baby and it is also their first immunization against various kinds of ailment. In fact, the leading cause of death for infant mortality, if I am not mistaken, is water-borne diseases, which is directly related to bottle feeding. Kasi kapag hinihugasan ang bote at hindi tama ang paghugas, doon nagkakaroon ng water-borne diseases, samantalang kapag nag-breastfeed, there is no contamination, nothing to wash, it is simply safer for babies.

And I also wanted to point out that in Taguig City, and I’ve also launched similar programs in Cebu and other parts of the country, there is a human milk bank. So in 2015, Taguig City established its human milk bank, which screens and then pasteurizes donors’ milk for families whose mothers cannot make milk available to their babies. So this is a big help for the babies whose mothers actually died or are sick, or are still recuperating, and also for babies who are left. We’ve already covered that in another law with Sen. Grace and Sen. Risa. So again, as an example, in Taguig City, 376 bottles of milk that were pumped by Taguig women were donated to infants in need after the Taal Volcano erupted.

And, even during the pandemic, there were also donated breast milk to infants in need. I’d like to emphasize this, since the evidence shows that according to WHO, [to he COVID-19 virus] was not detected in the breastmilk of any mother with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. They have not detected COVID-19 and it seems to be unlikely that COVID-19 would be transmitted through breastfeeding. So as we have known, but of course, it is better to be supported with evidence, breastfeeding even during the time of COVID is still very much recommended.

So Mr. President, I think I will end there. I just want to emphasize that I share my personal journey… Oh sorry, I knew I forgot something. There are a number of laws that also support breastfeeding. But what I want to emphasize is the 105-Day Expanded Maternity Leave Law. This is very crucial because from my own experience, and then from the experience of the women staff who work with me, I really saw with my own eyes that 60 days is not enough to leave your baby and go back to work especially if you are continuing to breastfeed. I really had a lot of problems going back to work, that included breast engorgement. This is very, very painful, fever, and it just very difficult. So with 105 days, we gave the mother an additional 45 days to continue breastfeeding, and when the mother goes back to work, her breastmilk supply is usually definitely much more established and it’s easier for her to continue breastfeeding.

So I end my privilege speech on this note and I thank the members of the Senate for the support that I have seen growing for breastfeeding throughout the years. Thank you, Mr. President. #

Senate breastfeeding room
File photo: The Senate breastfeeding room which was launched in 2014.

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