Women faculty and personnel work for different reasons, but one that we cannot deny is that most of them have families to provide for. Some of them gave birth years ago, others just recently. We call them ‘ate,’ ‘ma’am,’ or ‘miss,’ but for those waiting for them in their homes, they are ‘mom’ or ‘mama.’ The fact is seldom revisited: There are no streamers, no confetti to celebrate such a momentous event when a working mother expresses out milk from her breasts to nourish a baby waiting at home.
Around two years ago, the Health Services Office (HSO) decided to create a space called the Lactation Station for breastfeeding mothers in the Enrique Razon Sports Center. Near the elevators, the words ‘Lactation Station’ are printed in bold green text above the door. No one seems to come in and out of the room, but women faculty, personnel, and even students in campus who need to express their milk upon lactating can find privacy inside—a room of one’s own.
Republic Act 10028
This initiative was in support of RA 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Act of 2009. The policy has five parts; two notable chapters include the facilities to be found in the lactation stations and the “information, education and re-education drive” to increase awareness and change the conversation on breastfeeding mothers. Moreover, the Philippine government mandates that all workplaces have a space in which mothers can comfortably express their breastmilk during their working hours. DLSU was lacking such a facility until the Lactation Station was established.
We are not allowed inside. This is to make sure that the mothers are protected from different diseases and virus while lactating. But we are told that there are partitions for each lactating mother. “Nobody can enter there except women who would like to express milk. Not even [other] women, not even husbands can enter,” says Dr. Lily Cabuling, director of the Health Services Office. It’s a clean, air-conditioned facility, which provides booths where the mothers can pump their milk in comfort.
Previously, mothers had been requesting to use the clinic itself to express their milk in private. This situation, however, was not ideal because, according to Dr. Cabuling, they could not guarantee the sterility of the rooms due to the nature of the clinic itself. Exposure to the possible viruses and diseases within the clinic could compromise not only the health of the mother, but of her child as well. The HSO resolved to rectify this situation by deeming the clinic within the Razon building unsustainable and instead remodeling it into the Lactation Station, present there today.
A mother’s milk
“Ten years ago, the parents had a choice of leaving the baby in the nursery. Binigyan sila [babies] ng milk ng nurses until it is time for the mother to go home,” Dr. Cabuling recalls. Before, after the baby is born, they directly go to incubation. However, in lieu of RA 10028, the baby must now be brought directly to the mother to latch and begin breastfeeding.
Studies have shown that breastfeeding for the first few months of a baby’s life is beneficial toward the child’s growth. Breastfeeding allows mothers to provide their antibodies to their children called colostrum, which aid in fighting off infections and ailments that could plague a newly born child. Breast milk, however, is not an unlimited resource.
According to Dr. Cabuling, a mother must express her milk regularly lest the body interpret their lack of expression as a lack of necessity and cease the production of milk. “There is a need for the milk to be expressed. It’s painful if hindi tinanggal. The best stimulus for an increased secretion of milk is a complete emptying of the milk. The more you empty, the more you can produce.”
Mothers aware of the benefits of breastfeeding know that sacrifice is necessary. “First, iisipin mo muna baby mo, iisipin mo yung para sa baby mo, hindi lang para sayo,” Shiela Gusto of the security department says. She did not work for five months to breastfeed her baby. With only her husband’s job providing the family income, she recalls of that time matter-of-factly and a little despondently, “Oo, syempre talaga, mahirap.”
Such is the plight of the working mother, that their careers often stand in the way of their ability to provide for their babies. Many mothers take a leave from work to care for their children, but in many cases this puts great financial strain on their families. This balancing act understandably is a cause of great concern for mothers, who want their child to receive the benefits of breastfeeding.
A mother’s plight
Before there were ever lactation stations, where did mothers go to express their milk? Jessa Pacheco, administrative assistant of the Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance and a working mother, was one of those women who had to rush to express their milk in an unoccupied room in school and refrigerate it in the clinic.
“Noong pumasok na ako, doon na ako naghahanap ng lactation station pero wala pa at that time. From there,” she points to the other room, “tatakbo ako sa clinic. They don’t have a separate container for breastmilk mismo so nahahalo sa nilalagay nila na formula.” Her co-workers often playfully comment at how she disappears from her desk at random points of the day for about 30 minutes to retreat to her self-proclaimed lactating room.
Gusto remembers her own similar struggle. She had to express her milk in the privacy of the comfort room. “Iisipin mo rin kasi na mas healthy yun para sa baby. Yun lang naman talaga yun. Sayang kasi, kasi alam ko na meron akong gatas. Sayang naman kung hindi ko gagamitin.”
Moisisa Arboladora is a maintenance worker who also stopped working for six months to give time for her baby. She remembers breastfeeding back in 2007 and expressing her milk in the comfort room as well. Because she was not able to store her expressed milk, she laments, “Tinatapon ko nalang kasi napapanis.” She recounts that she believed that personnel then were restricted from using the refrigerator or any facilities with regards to breastfeeding—but the lactation stations now are open to all members of the DLSU community.
When told of the existence of lactation stations, she is surprised but carefully expresses concern. “Masyadong malayo po yung lactation station.” According to her, it takes up too much time to walk to the stations and pump milk. Putting yourself in these women’s shoes, you realize a tug-of-war is constantly played against themselves and their obligations at work.
Donna Mina, secretary of the Literature Department, who just came back from leave this June, shamelessly confesses the pains of breastfeeding in general. “Nag-dugo yung nipple ko. Ang sakit-sakit.” but she still persisted. “Naorient naman kami sa benefits sa breastfeeding. From doctors, coming from other mothers. At sa internet din.”
At work, she worries that the dampness of milk from her breasts will be seen through her uniform. It is a constant source of anxiety for her, not to mention the pain of the milk not being expressed. “During work, mararamdaman ko na mahapdi siya. Hindi ko nalang siya masyado pinapansin.”
She echoes the sentiment of other breastfeeding mothers, “Baka ma-apektuhan din yung trabaho… kaya naisip ko di ko kakayanin siguro, [even] though gusto ko man. Hindi kaya sa oras ng pagtatrabaho.” She decides not to compromise and only when she gets home will she give her full attention to her baby. “Ang plano ko nalang, every time ako uuwi dun nalang ako magbbreastfeed,” she says finally.
Inside the world of lactating mothers, there are many complexities. For some mothers, breastfeeding is empowerment, just as Pacheco believed, even with the urgent and uncontrollable moments in public places that require them to express milk. For others, it becomes a fight against self-pity or a source of anxiety, like for Mina. Other women can only sigh in regret, because either way, they will have given something up. The stigma surrounding breastfeeding doesn’t help, but that is an entirely different story. It is so easy to believe that the biology of a woman is a trap during those several months of breastfeeding.
Yet, doctors and other health officials have fervently advocated breastfeeding with the passing of the Philippine Milk Code or Executive Order No. 51 that regulates the marketing of formula milk. The advocacy group Go Breastfeed believes in the magic of the moment when the baby latches on to the mother for nutrition. Launching a campaign with the hashtag #GoBreastfeedBoldly, it is a movement to strip away shame, and in some respects, create a space for conversation that stretches towards the workplace.
According to Dr. Cabuling, “[The HSO does] health teachings when women consult us in the clinic, especially those who are pregnant.” Apart from that, they post help desk announcements every term. But those ways are still not inclusive to other women personnel who cannot check their emails, or cannot allot time to go to the clinic to have consultations.
Stories of hiding in comfort rooms and of painful consciousness on the part of future working and lactating mothers will still surface if we fail to give them the support that they need. Building the lactation stations is a step toward it, but what they need the most is the emotional assurance of not needing to hide, of not having to choose between their work or their baby, which is so often the case, and instead assuming a kind of control over their bodies by being able to choose one without compromising the other. It should become a well-accepted truth that a lactating mother necessitates more than just a room of one’s own.