A group of Filipino women exposed themselves outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday in support of breastfeeding as milk formula companies launched a legal challenge against advertising restrictions.
The 21 women, aged between 37 and 72, said they had all raised healthy children on natural breast milk. They unbuttoned their blouses to reveal hand-painted slogans across their breasts.
"Infant formula is dangerous," read one. "Yes to breastfeeding," read the slogan on 72 year-old Narcisa Santiago, a mother of seven. Riot police drove the protesters away from the court after they ignored an order to cover up.
No arrests were made. Breastfeeding is in decline across Asia, with just 35 percent of mothers breastfeeding exclusively during their baby's first six months, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Philippine government reacted last year by imposing a strict marketing code on milk substitutes, which have been strongly promoted by manufacturers. Inside the court Tuesday, judges heard a suit lodged by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines challenging the government's move.
The government directive, issued by President Gloria Arroyo, was designed to make it harder for companies to target parents with advertising that claimed instant formula milk fostered smarter, stronger babies.
"We have seen a dramatic decrease of our breastfeeding rates. We have seen an increase of the profits and sale of infant formula companies," Health Department Undersecretary Alexander Padilla said.
The local US Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Arroyo calling on her to re-examine the advertising restrictions or risk the country's "reputation as a stable and viable destination for investment."
Research has shown that babies given breast milk develop fewer respiratory and intestinal diseases, and those given formula have a greater chance of developing asthma, allergies and obesity, the WHO has said. According to WHO studies up to 1.45 million children die annually in poor countries because of low breastfeeding rates.