Milking bulls: Only in the Philippines
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-12-11
There is no debating the benefits of breastfeeding. But when the Department of Health (DoH) runs a television commercial that is premised on an outright falsehood and so obviously designed to belittle mothers who feed their children cow’s milk, the health agency must be ready to suffer the loss of public respect and credibility.

For some time now, the DoH has been airing a TV ad that goes like this: "Ang gatas ng baboy ay para sa biik, ang gatas ng aso ay para sa tuta, e ang gatas ng baka, para sa anak mo? Hindi hayop ang anak ko." (A pig's milk is for its piglet, a dog's milk is for its puppies, but is cow's milk for your baby? My baby is not an animal.)

It is one thing to promote breastfeeding and another to give mothers the false impression that an alternative nutrition is bad — effectively depriving them the option to feed cow's milk to their infants. For the DoH to endanger mothers who can’t breastfeed is not only stupid but irresponsible.

How this TV commercial passed the DoH bosses escapes me. Are government TV ads not reviewed to filter untruths such as what this TV ad suggested?

A mother will naturally want to breastfeed her child. We know that nothing can ever match the nutritional content of breast milk. But not every mother is capable of giving her infant nature's best gift to the human baby.

So, when this happens what is the mother supposed to do? Feed her child lugao or weak tea?

I wonder if this TV ad is a result of the DoH caving in to the demands of those noisy breastfeeding advocates. One gets the impression that those advocates may only be after the bragging rights for having broken the Guinness record for simultaneous breast-feeding or maybe raise money to justify NGO status. Did these advocates even bother to think of the realities faced by mothers who just can’t produce milk from their breasts?

Despite that derogatory TV ad on cow's milk, educated mothers, mostly belonging to the upper and middle classes, know that infant formula feeding will help ensure a healthy baby whose mother cannot breastfeed for whatever reason. Beyond infancy, we all know that cow's milk provides the calcium and other nutrition for a growing child.

I am most worried about those mothers in poor communities who do not have access to unbiased information on infant nutrition. In these communities, there will be mothers who will be unable to breastfeed.

The reasons may range from medical to economic, such as when one has to sell fish in the market and taking the infant with her is a health hazard for the baby. These mothers are already deprived of better opportunities. And now their infants, who they cannot breastfeed, will face an even bleaker future.

I am not a defender of milk companies and I know that they are no different from other consumer businesses who will want to promote their products as aggressively as they can. It is the role of government to make sure that these companies toe the line in terms of truthful advertising.

But it cannot be denied that it is also this commercial drive that has fostered the development of more advanced research for infant nutrition. And their products serve the needs of these mothers who cannot breastfeed — most of them forced by circumstances.

If our DoH did a better job at educating mothers, especially those in far-flung communities, it will not hide its failure behind these groups who prefer to blame milk companies rather than correct the inefficiencies of the bureaucracy which keeps Filipino mothers ignorant.

By scaring a mother from feeding her infant formula milk or giving her child cow's milk, the DoH and all the other groups behind this TV ad are forcing a mother to turn to dangerous alternatives. How can you respect the DoH if it cannot even take an objective position, one that also considers the welfare of infants who could not be breastfed?

The DoH and the rabid breastfeeding groups will have to assume responsibility for effectively damning the babies of mothers who cannot breastfeed to unhealthy consequences, all because they were deprived of information on available nutrition alternatives.

A mother must be well informed of what is best for her baby — and that is the role of government. But it is not right for others to make a mother (who feeds cow’s milk or formula to her baby) feel as though she is inferior or that she is a 'bad' mother, especially when she is incapable of breastfeeding her baby.

I shuddered when I even caught on TV some statements coming from these advocates claiming that even men, given enough suckling stimulation, can actually yield milk! I hope these mother's milk fanatics do not reach that point when they will even want men to act as wet nurses.

Rise up my male comrades, to arms! We are now endangered machos who are about to be transformed into milking bulls.

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