MANILA, Philippines – Thousands of Filipino mothers simultaneously breast-fed in day-care centers and hospitals Wednesday in a campaign to counter advertising claims that artificial baby foods are better than breast milk.
A partial, unofficial count showed at least 3,608 mothers took part nationwide, according to the organizers' Web site and Felix Armenia, an official of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
"We need every possible way to get the message out that Filipino mothers should breast-feed exclusively for six months and then continue to breast-feed for two years and beyond with household foods," said Dale Rutstein, UNICEF's spokesman.
"Unfortunately, through advertising, most Filipino mothers now believe that artificial forms of foods for babies are actually better than breast milk," he said.
A U.N. expert in February criticized milk companies and a Philippine pharmaceutical association for "deceptive and malicious" advertising practices aimed at selling infant formula in the country.
Jean Ziegler, the Geneva-based U.N. food rights expert, said aggressive marketing practices by milk companies were misleading the public by claiming that breast-feeding cannot be done by a majority of women and that their consumer products raise healthy, smart and happy babies.
In 2003, the World Health Organization estimated that 16,000 children below 5 died in the Philippines due to improper feeding practices, including use of infant formula.
Today, only 16 percent of Filipino children between 4 and 5 months old are exclusively breast-fed while 13 percent of mothers do not breast-feed at all, believing they do not have enough milk, according to UNICEF.
Last year, the city of Manila, in partnership with breast-feeding advocates, broke the Guinness record on simultaneous breast-feeding in a single site when 3,541 mothers gathered at a sports complex. That event broke the previous record of 1,130 mothers breast-feeding simultaneously in Berkeley, California, in 2002.