About 2 weeks ago, I read an article in the Manila Bulletin about 2 solons filing a bill to encourage breastfeeding in the workplace. I didn’t pay much attention to it because what was quoted in the news was already covered by Sen. Pia Cayetano’s Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009. Last week, a researcher from Unang Hirit contacted me and asked me about this new bill. I asked her to send me a copy so I could compare the two bills.
The new bill filed by Malabon City Rep. Josephine Veronique R. Lacson-Noel and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez is HB3527 or The Breastfeeding Act of 2010. HB3527’s history shows that it was filed on 14 October 2010 and is currently with the Committee on Health as of 15 October 2010. According to the news, the main provision is “the mandatory creation of lactation facilities in all offices, both public and private, where nursing mothers can feed their children even during working hours”.
However, let me quote Section 11 of Sen. Pia’s bill:

Sec. 11. Establishment of Lactation Stations. – It is hereby mandated that all health and non-health facilities, establishments or institutions shall establish lactation stations. The lactation stations shall be adequately provided with the necessary equipment and facilities, such as: lavatory for hand-washing, unless there is an easily-accessible lavatory nearby; refrigeration or appropriate cooling facilities for storing expressed breastmilk; electrical outlets for breast pumps; a small table; comfortable seats; and other items, the standards of which shall be defined by the Department of Health. The lactation station shall not be located in the toilet.

In addition, all health and non-health facilities, establishments or institutions shall take strict measures to prevent any direct or indirect form of promotion, marketing, and/or sales of infant formula and/or breastmilk substitutes within the lactation stations, or in any event or circumstances which may be conducive to the same.

Apart from the said minimum requirements, all health and non-health facilities, establishments or institutions may provide other suitable facilities or services within the lactation station, all of which, upon due substantiation, shall be considered eligible for purposes of Section 14 of this Act.”

Doesn’t that provision already cover the creation of lactation facilities in all offices? I checked HB3527 again to check other differences. I noticed that HB3527 is a mish-mash of both the Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009, The Rooming-in and Breastfeeding Act of 1992 (R.A. 7600) and even the Milk Code!

The novel provision I found in the proposed House Bill is that nursing in public is not indecent exposure:

Section 7. Not indecent exposure – No provision of law or ordinance on indecent exposure shall apply to breastfeeding an infant. A mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, even if not done discreetly, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.

I know that advocates in other countries would be quite happy with this provision as several of them have encountered complaints/oppositions when they nurse in public. However, as I explained in the previous post, I generally have had good experiences when I nurse in public.

There is an interesting provision about the provision on weaning – Section 16, which states:

“Mothers shall be responsive to the needs of the child and shall allow their child to wean naturally. Weaning, as a personal decision to be made by each mother based on her particular family situation and individual circumstances, is recognized. Young children who nurse past their infancy have their own developmental timetables.”

I’m happy that the proposed bill recognizes that weaning need not happen when mother goes back to work and that babies/children CAN nurse past infancy.

Now, let me get to the provisions of HB3527 which I don’t like. First would be Section 8(d) on breastfeeding in the workplace. Under the proposed bill, “[e]mployers shall provide mothers with reasonable unpaid break time to express milk or breastfeed” Now, why would you take out a benefit which has been granted to moms in the current law? Under R.A. No. 10028, nursing employees are granted PAID milk expression time”

Sec. 12. Lactation Periods. – Nursing employees shall granted break intervals in addition to the regular time-off for meals to breastfeed or express milk. These intervals, which shall include the time it takes an employee to get to and from the workplace lactation station, shall be counted as compensable hours worked. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) may adjust the same:Provided, That such intervals shall not be less than a total of forty (40) minutes for every eight (8)-hour working period.”

Whenever I talk about breastfeeding and the workplace in L.A.T.C.H. seminars, this is the provision that I emphasize one and what I believe is most applicable and helpful to working and breastfeeding moms. So I don’t understand why the proponents of HB3527 seek to remove this benefit.

Another provision that I’m not too happy about is Sec. 28 on advertising – which specifically states that advertising for products intended for infants 0-6 months shall not be allowed BUT advertising for infants 6-12 months shall be allowed upon review and approval of the IAC. This is a dangerous provision – particularly now that milk companies are very careful. In fact, you do not see a lot of advertisements for formula milk for 6-12 month old babies. With this statement that formula ads for 6-12 month old babies are allowed (albeit with prior permission of the IAC). And for sure, the IAC will be inundated by applications for ads!

Finally, I’m a bit if-fy about this provision:

“Section 6. Mother’s prerogative – Breastfeeding is the most elemental form of parental care. The decision to breastfeed is the sole prerogative of the mother. The decision to do otherwise must be based on an informed choice. In health care facilities, bottle feeding shall be allowed only after the mother has been informed by the attending health personnel of the advantages of breastfeeding and how to encourage and maintain lactation. The proper techniques of infant formula feeding shall be provided only after the mother has opted to adopt formula feeding for her infant.”

I believe moms should be informed that it is their RIGHT to breastfeed and to obtain information how to be successful. It is difficult to protect breastfeeding when there is such as provision saying “the decision not to breastfeed must be based on an informed choice.” Determining that a mom choosing to formula feed has made an “informed” choice is difficult. How many local hospital pay lip service to breastfeeding and just tell moms – hey breastfeed without telling them how or why? Recently, I know someone who gave birth to triplets and asked to see a lactation consultant at the hospital only to be told that the hospital had none. Her pediatrician was skeptical when she said that she would be breastfeeding the triplets. If this mother chooses to formula feed, can you then say that she has been given an informed choice?

I don’t think that this new bill is necessary for the success of breastfeeding in the country. The Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009 has good provisions which just needs to be applied. In fact, almost 9 months after it has been signed, we are still waiting for the implementing rules and regulations to be released. Maybe focus on that and proper implementation is a more worthwhile experience for our politicians.

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