By James Tababa
Breastfeeding babies from the first hour after birth until the succeeding six months is important. Exclusive breastfeeding, without giving any other food for the first six months, promotes the sensory and cognitive development of the baby. It also protects babies against diseases. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund).
Lactating mothers should maintain a healthy body to provide milk for their babies. Anemia, iodine deficiency, as well as protein and micronutrient deficiencies, can impact the quality of breast milk among lactating mothers.
Malunggay, papaya, coconut, and ubod ng puguhan (heart of fish palm tree) are the four indigenous food crops that traditionally ought to increase the flow of breastmilk. The claims of consuming these food crops were passed down from generations of Filipino mothers. Mothers are naturally capable of producing their milk for their infants. They need to be healthy to make the right amount of milk for their baby.
Malunggay (Moringa oleifera)
Malunggay is a common live fence tree in the Philippines and is usually found in household backyards.
In Quezon and Camarines Sur, leaves are the preferred part of the plant to be eaten but in Nueva Viscaya, eating the pods is more popular.
Malunggay is the most popular recommended vegetable to increase breastmilk production during lactation. It has high amounts of Vitamin A and beta-carotene. It is also known to have high iron content, which is why it is recommended to help prevent anemia among women.
Aside from being used as an ingredient in various dishes such as sauteed mungbean and tinola. Malunggay leaves are also powdered to make supplement capsules and juice drinks.
Papaya (Carica papaya)
The unripe green papaya is another popular vegetable crop believed to increase milk production. Feeding unripe papaya to lactating mothers is commonly practiced in Nueva Ecija and Bukidnon. In Nueva Ecija, the papaya flower is also known to improve breast milk flow.
Papaya is widely cultivated in the Philippines and has been a part of the country’s cuisines. Traditionally, papaya is heated to neutralize the fruit sap that may cause allergies when eaten fresh. Green papaya is often mixed in vegetable stews like dinengdeng, laswa, pinakbet, and inabraw.
Coconut (Cocos nucifera)
Coconut, locally known as buko, is known to help breastfeeding moms in the province of Camarines Sur. Consumption of the coconut meat and the heart (ubod) of the coconut palm is a local breastfeeding tradition.
The young coconut meat provides 102 kcal of energy for every 100 grams. Eating coconut meat is a healthy way of fulfilling the additional 500 kcal daily caloric intake requirement of breastfeeding women on top of the general daily requirement of 1870 kcal.
The coconut water and coconut meat are among f the main ingredient of Bohol’s nilaw-uy nga butong, a variant of the traditional Cebuano mixed vegetable stew including malunggay, sweet potato tops, alugbati, and young corn kernels. Indeed a nutritious meal for breastfeeding mothers.
Heart of the fishtail palm (Caryota spp).
The heart of the fishtail palm or locally called ubod ng pugahan, as a milk production enhancer, is heard in Barangay Bagong Negros, Kiblawan, Davao del Norte, and Barangay Puray, Rodriguez Rizal. This is a passed-on generational knowledge from the ethnic population of these provinces.
Fishtail palms usually thrive in rainforest ecosystems because they prefer moisture and well-drained soils.
Harvesting the heart of the fishtail palm is similar to coconuts. It is a destructive process, meaning the plant will die after harvesting for its heart.
Not all species of fishtail palms are edible. The only reported edible Fishtail palm species in the Philippines are Caryota mitis Lour., C. rumphiana var. philippinensis Becc., C. rumphiana var. oxyodonta Becc., and C. cumingii. These are not commonly found outside their natural habitats.
The heart of the fishtail palm can be prepared similarly to the heart of the coconut palm. It can be cooked as ginataan, grilled, sauteed, or mixed in stews, adobo, pancit, and lumpia.
Vegetables for Nursing Mothers by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD) can be downloaded for free from the DOST-PCAARRD eLibrary at https://elibrary.pcaarrd.dost.gov.ph/.