PGH lactation unit seeks support for breastfeeding moms suspected or confirmed with COVID-19

Aleta Nieva Nishimori, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 11 2020 04:29 PM

MANILA - The head of a state hospital's lactation unit has sought support for breastfeeding mothers who have either been diagnosed with the coronavirus disease or are under suspicion of being a carrier, and their babies who rely on them for food.

Dr. Aurora Gloria Inguillo Libadia, head of the Philippine General Hospital's Human Bank and Lactation Unit, underscored the importance of supporting mothers who just gave birth, most especially at a time of pandemic.

She noted how babies whose mothers have contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 or are isolated for being a suspected case are forced apart, given precautions against the spread of the disease.

"Sa pagkakataon ngayon 'yung nasa ospital, 'yung tawag nating PUIs o COVID-positive mothers, nahihiwalay ang sanggol sa kanilang ina. Pinaka-importante kahit na nagkahiwalay sila pagka-panganak ng ina, importante na mag-express ng gatas kada 2 o 3 oras para ma-establish at ma-maintain ang milk supply," she said.

(At this point when PUIs or COVID-positive mothers are in hospitals, they are separated from their babies. It's still important that they are able to give milk every two to three hours to maintain milk supply.)

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire earlier said lactating mothers who contract COVID-19 may continue breastfeeding.

Vergeire pointed out that mothers only need to be careful by practicing hand hygiene, wear face masks and clean things which are used for breastfeeding.

The World Health Organization had a similar take on breastfeeding for COVID-19 patients.

Libadia said the production of breast milk should continue so that when mother and baby are finally together, the milk supply is established and sustained. She also emphasized that breastmilk has immuno-protective properties that strengthen babies' health and prevent them from getting sick.

"Lahat ng magbe-breastfeed at mag-eexpress ng gatas dapat 'yung hand hygiene, breast hygiene at mag-mask 'yung ina para sa safety ng baby at saka nung healthcare workers na makakasalamuha ng ina," she said.

(Mothers breastfeeding or expressing milk should practice hand hygiene, breast hygiene and should wear mask for the safety of their babies and the health care workers they interact with.)

When sent home, mothers should always practice strict hand hygiene before breastfeeding their babies. But if they are not yet able to breastfeed, Libadia urges mothers to just express breastmilk every 2 to 3 hours to establish supply.

The doctor is thankful to online support groups in the Philippines particularly in this time of a pandemic, where the government extended a lockdown in the entire Luzon, and other regions imposed travel restrictions to curb the spread of the disease.

"Very important ang breastfeeding kasi alam naman natin na 'yung ama ng pamilya maaring 'di nakakapagtrabaho tapos affected ng community quarantine, hindi pa rin makalabas. Gusto pa rin natin ng optimal nutrition, the most secured food ang maibibigay sa mga sanggol or infants," she said.

(Breastfeeding is very important because we know that fathers may be out of work because of the community quarantine and they could not go out. We still want to give the optimal nutrition and the most secured food for infants.)

Under the PGH system, reading materials and counseling are provided mothers upon discharge. They are then contacted by a volunteer of a breastfeeding support group. They will have to fill up a form consenting to online breastfeeding support.

"Ite-text sila at kung may access sila sa Zoom app, puwedeng Zoom meeting, puwedeng individual ang breastfeeding coaching kasi ang technique sa breastfeeding is more on skills at isipin niya na kayang-kaya niya, na maraming sumusuporta sa kaniya," Libadia said.

(They will receive a text and if they have access to Zoom app, they can have a Zoom meeting or individual breastfeeding coaching because the technique in breastfeeding is more on skills and the mindset that they can do it and many are supporting them.)

The only problem here is when the mother has no access to the internet. That's why they encourage mothers to call the PGH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit hotline for concerns about their babies or breastfeeding issues.

Libadia said they are coordinating with the Manila Health Office and other local government units to also provide their hotline numbers so that the support given to patients continue even after they are discharged.

"Sana hindi lang sa PGH. It matters kasi. Mas challenging 'yung pag-uwi. Sana may ugnayan 'yung ibang hospitals sa mga nagbo-volunteer na breastfeeding support group kasi nationwide, ang daming grupong tumutulong. Ang kailangan lang ng ina assurance at emotional support," she said.

(I hope its not only in PGH. Because it matters. The most challenging is when they are sent home. I hope there is coordination between hospitals and breastfeeding support group volunteers because they are nationwide, there are so many groups willing to help. Mothers need assurance and emotional support.)

Normally, a few days or weeks after giving birth depending if they had a normal or C-section delivery, mother and baby return for check-up - something that is unsafe to do because of the pandemic.

"Ngayon, naiiba ang sitwasyon kaya napaka-importante 'yung breastfeeding support-- online man o sa mga kababayan na wala namang access (sa internet)," she said.

(The situation has changed and breastfeeding support through online or even those who do not have internet access is very important.)

The initiative to go the extra mile was made possible by thousands of willing volunteers from breastfeeding advocates.

"Nagpapasalamat ako sa lahat ng tumutulong sa mga breastfeeding support group. I think isa sila sa mga bayani talaga ng bansa," she said.

(I want to thank all the breastfeeding support groups for their help. I think they are really among the country's heroes.)

Not only do these volunteers offer breastfeeding tips, they also donate breastmilk to babies in need at the PGH-NICU.

"Ang maganda sa PGH may Human Milk Bank. I honor lahat ng mga ina na nag-donate ng breastmilk sa PGH. Kadalasan miyembro sila ng breastfeeding support groups, 'yung Breastfeeding Pinays and the Latch group, at 'yung mga ina ino-honor namin sila dahil sa panahon na ito medyo ang iba natatakot, nangangamba, sa kabila noon ay selflessly tumutulong lalong-lalo na sa mga sanggol na ito," she said.

(What's nice with PGH is that we have a Human Milk Bank. I honor all the mothers who donated breastmilk to PGH. Many of them are members of breastfeeding support groups, the Breastfeeding Pinays and the LATCH group, despite the fear of these challenging times, they selflessly help our infants here.)

She added: "Naiyak ako kasi sobrang puno 'yung ref namin. 'Di ko alam kung paano ko sila pasasalamatan, ipagdadasal na lang."

(I was moved to tears because our ref is full. I don't know how to thank them, I will pray for them.)

She likewise thanked their staff who still come to work despite challenging times.

"Kahit walang pasok nagvo-volunteer silang pumunta para ma-pasteurize 'yung mga gatas," she said.

(Even if work is suspended they still volunteer to go here to pasteurize the milk.)

Aside from breastmilk donations, Libadia is also appealing to kind donors for personal protective equipment, N95 masks, breastmilk containers, breastmilk plastic bags, feeding cups, sterilizing tablets, pasteurizer bottles axifeed (250 ml), 2 electric fans, 10 freezers to store breastmilk for COVID rooms, 10 TV monitors with ports, 2 trolleys, 2 coolers, 1 table, alcohol, wipes, tissue paper, surgical masks, liquid dishwashing detergent soap, and 1 cellphone for breastfeeding hotline.