Thousands gather to advocate breast-feeding at ASEAN forum

MANILA, Philippines — Thousands of Filipino mothers gathered Saturday to breast-feed their babies together on the sidelines of the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Manila.

More than 2,000 mothers took part in the event, which marked the culmination of the ASEAN regional breast-feeding forum, CNN Philippines reported.

The event was dubbed Hakab Na! — a reference to a baby latching onto a mother’s breast — and was touted as the largest gathering of breast-feeding families in the Philippines, according to organizer and advocacy group Breastfeeding Pinay.

It coincided with the Global Big Latch On, which encourages women to gather at registered locations around the world to breast-feed their children simultaneously. That event began Friday and continued Saturday.

In the Philippines, Hakab Na! has been held in August since 2013 as part of the Philippines’ National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and World Breastfeeding Week.

“We’ve been doing this for the past five years, and every year we’re growing in numbers,” said Abigail Co-Floreza, Breastfeeding Pinay’s president. “On the first year we had it, we only had a little over 100 mothers.

“Now, we’re aiming to have 2,000 mothers simultaneously latching on their babies for one minute,” she said before the event.

According to a UNICEF global database, 34% of Filipino children were fed only breast milk, with no additional foods or liquids, before the age of 6 months. The organization cited data from 2008, the most recent available.

“Many of the mothers are having difficulty with breast-feed(ing), and they, sort of, use formula milk, and (they) don’t really appreciate the benefits of breast-feeding because the media promotes formula milk,” said Joy Reyes Eugenio, who participated in the event. “We need to, to really advocate breast-feeding.”

Every year, more than 12,400 child and maternal deaths can be attributed to inadequate breast-feeding in seven Southeast Asian countries, according to a 2016 study from Health Policy and Planning Journal. Breast-feeding protects against illness and death from the first hour of a baby’s life through age 2 or later, a 2015 UNICEF report found.

The World Health Assembly calls for an increase in the rate of global exclusive breast-feeding to at least 50% by 2025.