This is the latest in the government's efforts to encourage breastfeeding in the country, this time focusing on couples applying for marriage licences.
This will take effect as soon as the proposed Senate Bill No. 2051 — the Family Support for Breastfeeding Act — becomes law, and couples who have registered to wed must go through educational sessions on breastfeeding and infant nutrition, conducted by their respective city or municipal health officers.
Under the act, the Office of Family Planning in each city and municipality will be mandated to provide instructions and information on family planning, responsible parenthood, breastfeeding and infant nutrition.
At the same time, city and rural health nurses, as well as other such staff from different government agencies and departments will assist city and municipal health officers in continued efforts to promote breastfeeding in the Philippines.
Government agencies authorised to assist these officers include the departments of health, social welfare and development, and the Population Commission.
The bill will also allow the Office of Family Planning to receive assistance from volunteer doctors, nurses, or licensed health professionals and healthcare workers in delivering the instructions and information compiled under the proposed law.
Couples who complete the seminars will receive certificates of compliance as proof of their full attendance of the sessions; the seminars will be conducted and certificates issued free of charge.
The Local Civil Registry will not be allowed to issue a marriage licence if the applicants fail to present a certificate of compliance authorised by a family planning officer.
The bill is pending before the senate committees on women and children, health and demography, family relations and gender equality.
A formula against formula?
Senator Nancy Binay said this was meant to encourage awareness of breastfeeding, as early and exclusive breastfeeding had "the greatest potential impact on child survival".
She also referred to UNICEF's position that breastfed children’s chances of survival in the early months of life was six times higher than those of children who were not breastfed.
She added that breastmilk provides all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients, as well as antibodies from the mother to better protect the infant against diseases such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infection — two major fatal illnesses among infants.
The proposed bill is also firmly opposed to any efforts to market or endorse any commercially produced or sold infant nutrition products.
Infant formula manufacturers have been under close scrutiny from authorities in APAC, thanks to organisations such as the WHO and the UNICEF, as well as a number of NGOs.
Just last year, manufacturers in APAC came under fire for allegedly violating the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
In the Philippines alone, major MNCs such as Abbott, Mead Johnson, Nestlé and Wyeth were implicated for their 'aggressive' marketing.
These marketing tactics were reported to entail handing out freebies to doctors, midwives and other paediatric healthcare professionals in exchange for them recommending the companies' infant formula products to mothers, without the latter being properly educated on the advantages of breastfeeding over formula-feeding.