Milk letting to music in Caloocan City

The details of my first field visit last week intrigued me a little. I would be visiting Save’s partners at the Caloocan Health Department in Caloocan City with Kit, Project Coordinator based at the Quezon City office and attending a milk letting activity. Milk letting, I discovered, is the amazing process of how milk flows from mother to baby during breast feeding and I wondered how this would become an ‘activity’.

Like blood donors, lactating mothers gather to donate their breast milk for hospitals that are desperately short on supply – a partnership between the City Health Office and DOH in support of the city government’s milk letting program .

I arrived to the sound of 80’s music and an abundance of welcoming smiles and warm greetings from the partners running the event. Around 200 lactating mothers were in attendance ready and willing to donate their milk. I learnt this was the 3rd year this event has been held and as well as providing milk for abandoned and sick babies, it promotes breast feeding, nutrition advice and HIV screening.

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Around 200 lactating mothers donate breastmilk
Around 200 lactating mothers donate breastmilk
With Dr Marissa Isabedra, Deputy City Health Officer
With Dr Marissa Isabedra, Deputy City Health Officer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a great opportunity to connect with our partners and I was able to discuss the birth plan project in more depth with Dr Marissa Isabedra who provided me with valuable information and resources.

With Dr Maybelle Sison, City Health Officer
With Dr Maybelle Sison, City Health Officer
Caloocan Sanitation Unit conducts HIV screening.
Caloocan Sanitation Unit conducts HIV screening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Milk letting using breast pumps
Milk letting using breast pumps…..
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…to “the Eye of the Tiger”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards we visited Barangay 176 health center for the field visit – a district north of the city, to meet the midwife and community health volunteers and gain a deeper understanding how it works on the ground.

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Barangay 176 Phase 9 health center. The small yellow and red building in front is a lab for tests such as smears and TB

 

Caloocan is the third most populous city in the Philippines with only 44 health centres for a population of 1.6 million. Barangay 176 health center caters for the needs of around 39,000 people, with 1 nurse, 1 doctor, 1 midwife.

They are supported by wonderful members of the community who volunteer their time to do crucial work that the health care professionals cannot do. For example, they will visit families in the community to follow up on immunisations due for babies and infants, so they don’t miss these vital injections, check they are going to school and achieving important milestones, support adolescents and teenage mothers…these are just a few of the roles they perform. Unless there are specific budgets or programmes Community Health Workers (CHW) don’t get paid. In some cases, CHW’s can receive only 250 pesos a month. That’s £3.50. It’s a labour of love for these amazing people.

I was fortunate to observe Sophie Angeles, the midwife who was running the first clinic visit for women who are pregnant, and where the birth plan is first explained. Good communication and engagement with mothers is key to ensure they are motivated and prepared throughout their pregnancy up to and beyond delivery and are able to be tracked.

 

Sophie Angeles, midwife of Barangay 176 Phase 9 health center, discusses the birth plan with me
Sophie Angeles, midwife of Barangay 176 Phase 9 health center, discusses the birth plan with me

 

Family planning and counselling is given at every opportunity. There are high rates of teenage pregnancies – one girl at the clinic was just 15, so support provided here is essential to avoid these young mothers-to-be disappearing off the radar.

 

Local community nearby, where CHW’s play such an important role
Local community nearby, where CHW’s play such an important role

 

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With Sophie and community health volunteers.
With Sophie and community health volunteers.

I am now seeing a fuller picture of the challenges in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Nutrition  – and the successes. The drive, passion and determination to improve lives behind the scenes and on the ground is totally inspiring!

 

Speak soon! Alli 🙂

 

 

21 comments

  1. As ever, a fascinating insight; it amazing how solutions can be found to important and challenging issues. Will make me smile though when I go past the “letting” agencies on Regent Street!

      1. I love your blog Alli but found milk letting absolutely Yuk!! Community work and education about various topics is fantastic though ! 🙂

  2. How wonderful that so many mothers are happy to donate their breastmilk…such a precious gift. I love the way every opportunity is taken to educate and help the mothers. What an amazing dedicated team working so hard. They are truely inspirational people. What an amazing oportunity you have been given to have some input into improving care for the pregnant women.. enjoy x

  3. This is a wonderful blog Alli, I really loved reading it! Incredible generosity of mothers donating breastmilk and community workers dedicating their time, it must have been quite humbling and emotional realising how much some communities support each other. Enjoy absorbing all of these things! Looking forward to your next blog already 😉 K x

    1. Thanks Kat…yes it was incredibly humbling – that evening I couldn’t wait to do a ‘shout out’ about it – check out the yammer post from Jason in the Global Health Programmes group – “Join WHO on World Humanitarian Day, 19 August, to honour health workers worldwide, who dedicate their lives to working in public health” 😉

  4. What a wonderful idea – I’m so pleased you got to see this event (in ADP terms it sounds like a great GEMBA!). Thank you for sharing this with us. It seems you are really getting to understand and see first-hand what the issues are in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

  5. Great blog Ali. As a mom of three, nursing is something I am passionate about. It’s great many more babies are getting the benefits of breast milk:)

  6. Really interesting – what an amazing experience to be involved in. ‘Milk letting’ is not unheard of here – I know there are mothers donating their breast milk at The Rosie Maternity hospital, although not on the same scale as that. Probably without the 80’s sound track too!

    1. I used to work at the Rosie Maternity Hospital, and the gift of breast milk by mothers is so critical to the health of the newborn babies, where ever in the world. So I’m glad to see what Alli is presenting.

  7. Dear Alli, Thank you for sharing this blog and photos. I am delighted to learn about the milk letting activity that you describe, and to see that a lot of people contribute! I was used to mothers gifting their breast milk as a neonatal doctor in Cambridge but to see ‘your’ local activity is really heart-warming. One question = why are the posters in English language?
    Thanks for raising the awareness about the health workers. Some amazing people!
    Continue the good work, cheers!

    1. Filipino and English are the official languages of the Philippines so many posters etc are in English. Tagalog is the most common language spoken here and often mixed with English to become Taglish!

    1. Lol! It’s funny in meetings…I can only understand half of what’s being said but get the picture… a bit like when you read text full of spelling mistakes!

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