Breastfeeding is essential for the development of infants. Breastmilk provides them with the nourishment that they need in their first few weeks, which then helps build a strong foundation for growth later on. In addition, it also helps protect them against diseases by boosting their immune system, making breastfeeding a must during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The antibodies that babies can get from breastmilk are very protective and the components change depending on what’s going on around the mother. So, if the mother is actually sick, the breastmilk that the mother produces will have antibodies that will protect the baby,” said Bing Guevara, one of the founders of Breastfeeding Pinays, a group dedicated to promoting breastfeeding and supporting breastfeeding mothers through knowledge sharing and counseling.
And as the country observes Breastfeeding Awareness Month this August, the focus is on making sure that breastfeeding mothers are provided with all the support that they will need amid the COVID-19 health crisis where they are even more susceptible to anxiety and mental fatigue, which in turn can make breastfeeding more stressful for them.
According to Guevara, one of the biggest fears that breastfeeding mothers can face during a pandemic is whether or not they will be able to breastfeed their babies in the event that they test positive for COVID-19. This has been laid out in the Department of Health’s “Interim Guidelines on COVID-19 Management of Pregnant Women, Women About to Give Birth and Newborns,” which Guevara cited.
“The healthcare providers should assess if the mother has symptoms or not. If there are no symptoms, then automatically, the mom and the baby will be together. But if there are symptoms, the healthcare provider would have to inform the mother about the risks and benefits of non-separation versus two weeks of separating the baby and the mom,” Guevara said.
From their end, Breastfeeding Pinays is also experiencing a number of setbacks when it comes to supporting breastfeeding mothers. The administrators and volunteers are unable to conduct face-to-face counseling and training. They are also currently dealing with more tasks at home as a result of modified working arrangements and distant learning for their children. But the group has been finding ways to ensure that support remains accessible for these mothers.
“We have managed most of these by going online. We have been organizing webinars on breastfeeding and complementary feeding and have enabled our counselors to do online counseling. Even our Hakab Na! will be done online. We also migrated basic breastfeeding information from our private forum to a public page so that more people can access them,” said Abie Co-Floreza, who is the President and also a founder of Breastfeeding Pinays.
Guevara and Co then gave tips on what to do when breastfeeding during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these are reading up on guidelines that breastfeeding mothers must follow in order to protect themselves and their babies during the pandemic, such as those that are recommended by the World Health Organization. According to these guidelines, if the mothers are the ones who test positive with COVID-19, they may still continue breastfeeding their babies. They just need to wear masks while breastfeeding and wash their hands before and after latching.
SM has been supporting breastfeeding mothers through various initiatives throughout the years. For instance, all SM malls in the country have designated breastfeeding stations, complete with all essential facilities, which have benefited more than one million breastfeeding mothers to date. SM has also been a partner of Breastfeeding Pinays.
“Breastfeeding is critical to the growth of children, which is why we must advocate for it. And the way we are doing this is through numerous programs that we have implemented and supported in all of our spaces, all in our mission to provide caring and supportive environments for breastfeeding mothers,” said Berna Velasco, Program Director of SM Cares Program on Women and Breastfeeding Mothers.
Breastfeeding Pinays is inviting breastfeeding mothers to join their annual Hakab Na! For interested participants, visit the Breastfeeding Pinays Library on Facebook.