Dr. Maria Angela "Gela" Villa (φ2011B, Class 2016) is a 2nd year pediatrics resident at the UP Philippine General Hospital (UP PGH). Together with her team, she founded Milk Matters five years ago. In this Express Yourself post, she shares her experiences and insights about the project that has blossomed through the years.
The Little Project that Could
We started out five years ago as a little passion project committed to address this problem: the Philippine General Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (PGH-NICU) had a breastmilk storage deficit of a staggering 16 liters. The goal back then was to help augment the supply for the sick babies who were in dire need of breastmilk. The babies were giving it all they got to survive, and we were committed to give them the only food indicated to help them fight their infections. To help them leverage for a fighting chance at life.
It still is the goal now, but five years into this little passion project called Milk Matters, Phi Lambda Delta Sorority knows there are bigger, relevant goals we can achieve not just for the babies in PGH NICU.
Five years later, Milk Matters evolved into a vision of committed medical students, doctors, community-based health volunteers and parish-based advocates dedicated to provide quality healthcare in the service of the Filipino children.
This vision, and more.
We are aiming towards evidence-based research that would help understand and promote breastfeeding and child health among urban poor communities.
We are aiming towards establishing milk storage facilities located in strategic partner communities to empower and promote child-rearing practices for both the mother and the baby. We currently have two sites: Tondo and Canossa Center in Cavite.
We are aiming towards interprofessional and international collaboration with the private and public health sectors pursuing similar goals.
These goals, and more.
We are not going to be complacent and rest on our laurels after having achieved numerous awards and citations, both in national and international arenas (Ten Accomplished Youth Organizations 2014 Winner, international presentations such as in Consortium of Universities for Global Health, recipient of international grants, etc.), all at the age of five years. These awards are a reminder that we are on the right path, and we are blessed enough to even be acknowledged.
Awards or no awards, we know service is our core. We know who we do this for, why we do what we do, how we will do it. The vision may not be 20/20 clear yet, but we are brave enough, compassionate enough, blessed enough to pursue the path set before us.
Five years, and more.
I thank the Lord for using me as an instrument to have spearheaded this worthy and meaningful project. Everything is grace, indeed. To my Phi sisses, and to all those who have helped us and believed in us and continue to do so, THANK YOU. No one can do Milk Matters alone. We are a dream team. I am beyond blessed.
PS. We started Milk Matters while I was a third year medical student. Don’t limit yourself with what you can do. Learning is not confined within the four walls of the classroom.
Link to original blog post: https://gelaace.wordpress.com/2019/03/14/the-little-project-that-could/?fbclid=IwAR1ta0EQNPB4oM8dsye2B542dUGMAVp-TQz-yPPuRfLTcyaUe1-oajmLpy0
For more information about Milk Matters, please visit facebook.com/PLDMilkMatters
Answering the Call
As a health and religious leader, Sister Yel is an inspiration to many members of the community and part of her advocacy is Milk Matters. She shares that during the early years of Milk Matters, back when it was just a proposal drafted on paper, she welcomed the project with open arms. Likewise, the women at the Canossa Health and Social Center in Silang, Cavite were ready to take part. Health promotion through public health lectures (PHLs) on breastfeeding, proper latch-on, and breastfeeding positions were conducted to educate the mothers and correct misconceptions. Common problems encountered were also tackled in PHLs by asking the moms to share their own personal experiences after which, solutions to those problems were given by fellow moms and by the students.
Together with the PHLs on breastfeeding, Milk Matters also conducts regular milk drives in the community, in partnership with PGH. These drives give mothers the opportunity to donate their breast milk to the babies of the PGH Neontal Intensive Care Unit (PGH NICU).
“The first time Milk Matters came to Cavite, it was quite a success. All the mothers, coming from indigent families, were excited to somehow give a part of themselves and give a contribution to the needs of the babies in the nurseries of PGH.”
Sister Yel describes Milk Matters as a “creative way of answering a need,“ because not only do the mothers gain the knowledge for themselves and their babies, but they are able to share something of themselves to other babies in need. Living in a resettlement area, Sister Yel sees the daily struggles and pains of families in the community. However, despite their situation, the mothers still willingly give what they have.
“They are happy, that even in their own poverty, they are able to share what they naturally have. It added to their sense of self-worth and self-esteem… Its a beautiful thing.”
Milk Matters serves as an avenue for growth for the mothers, the BHWs, and even for the members of the sorority who conduct the lectures. All the women that take part of Milk Matters are able to learn more about themselves and about each other. Sister Yel shares how much she appreciates Milk Matters because of the learnings that are shares, the love that is fostered, and the empowerment it gives.
“...I really saw the joy of the mothers. Sometimes they feel like they can only be in the receiving end of things. It’s not just you found a way to help the babies of PGH, but in a way- is an empowerment of women especially in my set up.”
Sister Yel shares what she taken home from all the years that Milk Matters has been in the community,
“What I have learned in Milk Matters is that poor people can generously assist people in need. It’s easier and more natural for them because there is a certain connection that they feel— they understand the need and are only too eager to give up themselves.”
Milk Matters creates a safe and nurturing environment for mothers to be themselves and embrace motherhood through breastfeeding. Milk Matters has grown and will continue to grow with the help of women like Sister Yel Adre, with the Barangay Health Workers, the sisters of Canossa Health and Social Center, and with the mothers who continuously heed to the call to become of service to others.
For more information about Milk Matters, please visit facebook.com/PLDMilkMatters
Part and parcel of the advocacy of the Sorority to promote and enhance maternal & child health, Milk Matters was established in 2014. With this purpose and having sustainability at its core, Milk Matters partners with communities from around the region. One of the partners in service is Canossa Health and Social Center in Tondo, Manila. Knowing the gaps in knowledge and current practices is important in understanding the needs of the community. By hearing their voices and acknowledging the need for change, Milk Matters conducts public health lectures on exclusive breastfeeding, proper latch-on and breastfeeding positions, and common problems encountered during the lactation period.
“Natutuwa ako sa pag-demo ninyo kasi awareness yun sa mga nanay. Yung iba kasi nahihiya mag breastfeeding kasi ayaw nila mag labas ng ganun sa labas at sa trabaho, pero kapag nakikita nila kailangan pahalagahan ang breastmilk, itutuloy na nila.”
By taking the time to teach the mothers within Canossa, a chain reaction of change in the practices and attitudes of the community of Tondo is created. Ma’am Edna shares that the women who participate in the lectures and listen to the BHWs are able to become positive influences to the mothers and expectant mothers within the community.
“Nakikita nila benepisyo sa isa’t-isa at sa mga bata kaya nagkakaroon ng impluwensya sa iba’t-ibang mga nanay sa komunidad.”
Ounces to Liters
In efforts to achieve sustainability, Milk Matters, in partnership with Canossa Health and Social Center, was able to establish community-based milk storage facilities back in 2014 complete with refrigerators, milk pumps, and sterilizers. The chain reaction of change is not only within the confines of the community but it reaches beyond. Through the milk storage facilities in Canossa, mothers from Tondo are given an opportunity to share the milk they have. Donated milk is brought to PGH for pasteurization, a portion of which will go to the community for the mothers and babies in need and the rest are donated to PGH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Through the efforts of Ma’am Edna, the BHWs in the area, the community doctors, and the members of Canossa Health and Social Center, mothers are given the right to know about their health.
From ounces to liters, the milk that each mom is able to provide, supplies life to babies and gives them a fighting chance for tomorrow. As a mother herself, Ma’am Edna understands the struggles of breastfeeding and the toll it can take on the mother. She shares that she and the sisters of Canossa provide snacks for the moms who donate.
“Naiintindihan ko sila kasi nanay rin ako. Yung maliliit na bagay na pakainin mo sila pagkatapos magdonate, importante kasi yun yung gusto ng mga nanay-- na naiintindihan mo yung pinagdadaanan nila.”
Even with the collective efforts of the sorority, the health center, and the community, problems cannot be avoided. Despite providing the families with the information they need to have a successful breastfeeding journey, personal and financial limitations still exist. Ma’am Edna shares the struggles of the mothers within the community in terms of storage and balancing work.
“Kahit turuan natin sila sa exclusive breastfeeding at sabihan sila na paabutin ng 6 months, hindi pa rin nila ito nagagawa. Ang problema ay pag nagtratrabaho na sila. Pero kahit turuan sila sa pag-express ng gatas, pagdating mo naman sa bahay nila, wala naman mapaglalagyan na refrigerator… Pero hindi hindrance ang pagtratrabaho-- yun ang kailangan namin palakasin pa. Kahit sa simpleng cooler muna na may yelo habang na sa trabaho, makakastore ka na ng gatas.”
In spite of the problems being faced by Ma’am Edna, the BHWs, and the sisters of Canossa Health and Social Center in Tondo, Manila, they make the conscious decision everyday to continue becoming public servants for the Filipino people. It’s time to recognize and join women like Ma’am Edna and the women of Canossa in the fight towards women and community empowerment.
For more information about Milk Matters, please visit our Facebook page (facebook.com/PLDMilkMatters)
Breast milk is an important source of nutrition in a newborn, a growing infant, and most especially in preterm babies. The Philippine General Hospital (PGH), being a tertiary hospital, opens its arms to every Filipino in need — but with this comes an increase in the demand in the workforce and in supplies. One of the objectives of Milk Matters is to develop and maintain a stable source of breastmilk for the growing needs of the patients confined at the PGH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). With this, Milk Matters conducts regular milk drives and milk pick-ups in and around the Metro. Milk is stored and delivered to PGH where it is tested, pasteurized, and stored in the PGH Milk Bank. As of March 2019, Milk Matters has helped collect around 322.559 L of breastmilk from donations of moms around Metro Manila in a span of five years — all for the benefit of the mothers and babies in the PGH NICU.
Making it Possible
Before touching the lives of hundreds of babies, the milk donated finds its way to the hands of the nurses at the PGH Milk Bank. One of the people that continue to make Milk Matters a success is Nurse Fe A. Basinang. Ma’am Fe has been an avid advocate for exclusive breastfeeding especially during her time as a nurse in PGH. She has been with Milk Matters since its conception in 2014 and continues to serve the underserved to this day. She has been with PGH for nearly 34 years, serving 7 years and 5 months in the PGH Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
As someone in the front lines of our healthcare system, Ma’am Fe sees the discrepancies in the supply and demand for breast milk. Over the years, together with Milk Matters and other donations, the PGH Milk Bank has helped over thousands of preterm and sick babies and mothers who cannot supply enough breast milk for their babies. Ma’am Fe and the PGH NICU team, prepare the milk by pasteurization with pre- and post- culture to ensure the best quality milk or “liquid gold,” as they say. Ma’am Fe describes to us the process in which donated breastmilk finds its way to the babies in PGH. She explains that the milk is given to the babies via cup feeding to prevent nipple confusion. The process is not as easy as it sounds — Ma’am Fe explains that there are a lot of problems that can be encountered, especially with the patients. She describes that there can be difficult babies to help grow because of multiple co-morbidities and mothers that have a difficulty with their own supply of milk. But despite the problems they face, there will always be good days:
“Once nakikita ko na silang dumedede, lumulunok ng gatas, nag cup feeding, natutuwa ako kasi life yan eh, buhay na talaga sila — kaya tulungan na lang natin."
Maam Fe would recall the preterm babies who grow up strong with the help of the donated breastmilk and how beautiful it is to see them go home with a strong grip, good suck, and smile on their face. She also adds that the donated breast milk also helps mothers with twins, triplets, and even quadruplets supply their babies with enough milk to thrive.
“Napakamalaking bagay ang milk na nabibigay ninyo, lalo na kapag nakikita namin yung mga baby na gumagaling na, lalo na sa [babies sa] Kangaroo Mother Care.”
Beyond the Hospital
The whole PGH NICU team works hard to take the time to educate the mothers on breastfeeding basics and on lactation techniques to ensure that even after their stay in PGH, they may continue their breastfeeding journeys and become examples to others. Without the mothers that donate and the nurses at the PGH NICU, most especially Ma’am Fe, Milk Matters would not be the success it is today. Ma’am Fe is grateful for the partnership that Milk Matters has created with PGH NICU because with it, there is a constant supply of milk.
“Sana continuous yung pagbigay ninyo samin dahil kailangang-kailangan namin yun. Iba rin talaga yung may partnership kayo… Napakalaking tulong talaga yung naibibigay ng Milk Matters.”
Ma’am Fe encourages mothers to donate their breast milk if they can because there will always be a baby and a mother in need. As long as there are women like Ma’am Fe, who strive to continue to promote exclusive breastfeeding even at the dire of situations, breastmilk will always find its way to the Filipino child.
To find out how to donate milk, please visit our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/PLDMilkMatters).
In line with our objective to empower Filipino mothers to breastfeed, Milk Matters presents Express Yourself, an online movement that sheds light on the breastfeeding experiences of Filipino mothers, families, doctors, nurses, and other members of society. Our vision is to inspire other mothers to continue breastfeeding through these stories.