Phillippines Disaster and Formula.

There is a Formula feeding blog called “The Fearless Formula Feeder” They posted a blog post about how they are upset that formula is not being distributed in the Philippines, and how they believe that it is unfair that the government is refusing Formula as donations. They instead ask for clean drinking water.

I searched the comments to see what others thought of this blog post that I found under-researched, and misleading. I found a comment from someone who is actually there…. Instead of me writing out what I think I think we should just read her post since it is closer to the truth than we are.

Mec Arevalo on November 17, 2013 at 5:07 pm said:

Hello… I decided to answer here because your blog posts will be more easily accessible/searchable than your FB post

First of all, thanks for the concern for our welfare… especially those of the mothers of young babies and the babies themselves. Hopefully though, you will allow us the same concern.

The fact is, despite being breastfeeding advocates, we also care for the welfare of the mixed fed and the formula fed. Our government may be vetoing the donation of formula but that never meant we will allow formula-fed babies to suffer, get sick, die just because they are formula fed. There is a system in place where formula for formula fed babies can be had during disasters, at evacuation centers. There is budget to buy milk for them as well as that fact that they can freely ask milk companies to donate the milk required in these evacuation centers (if they have money to just dole them out for free at conferences, please trust me, that they have funds enough to give them for free after natural calamities).

Another fact is that most Filipino moms, as well as other nationalities I presume, start out breastfeeding. Only around 35% are still exclusively breastfeeding after 6 months in our country but a lot are still mix-feeding. Based on experiences in relief missions, most mothers are really breastfeeding to some degree… so there is no NEED for indiscriminate formula distribution. And if the child is older than 1 year old, formula becomes even more unnecessary as the goal becomes more about getting good solids into that baby.

Of the 9 infants brought to our tent today at the Air Base where survivors are being brought… only one was formula fed. All were breastfed. And we sure had formula and feeding bottles for that baby. We had clothes for him as well. And well-meaning people who bought formula were thanked as graciously as those who only brought clothes or diapers.

Now, is it wrong for our government to turn away formula donations? I say not, because the need for such is not high on the list. And yes, please trust me, that once we get a lot of them out there… they will be used, even by those who don’t need them. Unfortunately, safe water and sterility IS always an issue in our evacuation centers (as well as stricken areas).

Is it wrong for our government to wish instead to get cash, or clothes, or maybe other baby needs? I say not. Because those ARE high on the list that we need post-calamity.

Is it wrong for us advocates to remind our friends not to give formula donations? I say not… because for the same amount of money, they could already have bought a family 1-3 days worth of food (and Filipino families tend to be bigger than most Western families, so much more mouths to feed). Can you blame us for wanting more water instead? More fruits? More rice? More cooked food? More clothes?

Isn’t it sadder for an evacuation center to be flooded with formula and powdered milk donations… where everyone gets handed a can (this has happened many times before, we have since become stricter, and thanks to social media, it has been more easily prevented)… while most of the evacuees/survivors go by without clean drinking water? Without food? Without can openers or stoves to open and cook the canned goods and rice they are given?

Is it so wrong to have toddlers (babies past age 1) start weaning off formula feeding bottles and get started on more solid intake instead? I will admit that improperly cooked food WILL still cause illnesses but again, for the same price, a family could feed the entire family and not just the child. It would logistically be more draining for a struggling family in the long term to support formula feeding by one member of the family (when it is no longer necessary).

I have to emphasize the above because the trend in the country now is that toddlers and preschoolers NEED milk, when what they need is calcium, (as well as other vitamins, minerals)… all of which can be had from a balanced diet and eating indigenous food (we even have a folk song of sorts listing high-calcium food that is more readily available, even for poor families.)

And dare I add the sad fact that those who will be left behind in evacuation centers will be the truly marginalized ones… the ones without good education, or a network of supportive family to support them. I cannot even begin to imagine just how many those will be post-Yolanda. And these truly marginalized ones will NEVER be able to sustain formula feeding, so it is really in the best interests of the government to get them to relactate (if they were only mix feeding, as most cases are) not only to reduce costs for formula purchase for them, but also to reduce risks of badly prepared formula (we have met evacuees who dilute milk, or prepare them with rainwater gathered in pails, or even portalet water).

And yes, I understand how our government must be failing our marginalized post-calamity (or the Filipino as a people, but I digress)… but allowing for indiscriminate donation and distribution of formula and powdered milk will not make our local government units act faster on relocation, sanitation and health issues. But again, the babies will have been put at risk.

Which is why we (breastfeeding advocates) are proud and happy that our government at least has the gumption to say NO to formula donations. I hope though that it is not taken out of context and that people from other parts of the world do not necessarily assume that we are awful creatures so scared of milk company propaganda. (well, we are scared of how they can be underhanded at times, but we are not awful creatures).

We are mothers like most of you are, who see the face of our own precious little ones in the faces of other children.

We are professionals like some of you are… and educated as most of you are… we have thought this through, are aware of the facts, consider both the short and long term.

Unfortunately though, some of our people have been brainwashed into thinking that what is bought is better than what they already have or can give… and some of them have failed to compute the cost to their family of formula feeding when they could have otherwise continued breastfeeding (going back to how most start out breastfeeding anyway, and with the right information and support could have really been successful at it, barring physiological and medical impediments). We speak for them.

Again, thank you for thinking about Filipino babies and young children and their moms… now, kindly trust that we think of them too. :)

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