breastfeeding mother

Pandemic offshoot: More babies being exclusively breastfed

“I cannot breastfeed my baby anymore. I need to return to work.”

This was the predicament of Cora, a mother of a 4-month-old baby, before the pandemic struck mid-March of 2020.

For Cora, and many other working mothers who have found it difficult, if not impossible, to breastfeed their infants while earning a living and/or caring for other members of the family, the ongoing pandemic may have provided an unforeseen solution.

When the Covid -19 pandemic forced the government to implement the various degrees of community quarantines, Cora got the chance to breastfeed her baby because of the resulting work-from-home arrangement of her office.

This trend in breastfeeding practices during the pandemic had been validated by the Rapid Nutrition Assessment Survey (RNAS) of the Department of Science and Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), where it was found that 60.8% of mothers exclusively breastfed their newborn babies up to 6 months old.

The RNAS further revealed that 59.7% of mothers currently breastfed their newborns up to 23 months old.

These rates are slightly higher than the 2019 prevalence rates of exclusive breastfeeding at 52.6%, and 56.0% for current breastfeeding, the RNAS concluded.

Breastmilk is the best and only complete food for newborn babies up until they reach 6 months old on exclusive breastfeeding, while breastmilk continues to provide nutrients complemented with solid foods thereafter until 2 years of age and even beyond, according to nutrition and health experts and research.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months protects the baby against diarrhea, respiratory illness, and other diseases, health experts explained. They add that breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months, benefits both mother and baby. It reduces the risk of childhood obesity, while helping mothers prevent another pregnancy during this period through lactation amenorrhea.

According to Message Number 2 of the Nutritional Guidelines for Filipinos (NGF) developed by DOST-FNRI: “Breastfeed infants exclusively from birth up to 6 months and then give appropriate complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond for optimum growth and development”.

At age 6 months, it’s also important for babies to receive complementary foods, with continued breastfeeding to sustain the child’s nutritional needs, the NGF also stated.

DOST-FNRI has developed nutritious complementary food blends and snacks, like those made from rice, mongo, and sesame seeds, that are being transferred to qualified entrepreneurs for production and marketing nationwide especially in areas where child malnutrition is prevalent. Aside from nutritious food technologies, the Institute also developed the 2021 Menu Guide Calendar (MGC) that features recipes for complementary feeding of infants and young children 6 to 23 months old to promote healthy diet and consumption behavior anchored on the infant and child’s developmental milestones.

Infants and young children need to receive optimal nutrition, especially during the pandemic, to boost their immunity and achieve proper growth and development. (DOST-FNRI)