Given the number of benefits from breast/chest feeding
, it’s no wonder the global recommendation is for infants to be breast/chest fed exclusively for six months – with human milk feeding continuing as an important part of the infant’s diet for two years and beyond. Recent studies promote the dose–response effect of breast/chest feeding: the more exclusive breast/chest feeding is in the first six months and the longer the duration beyond six months, the greater the impact and protection.
Unfortunately, recent data from the BC Perinatal Data Registry and the Public Health Agency of Canada shows that current breast/chest feeding rates in B.C. don’t meet the global recommendation.
“At the time of discharge from the hospital, rates of exclusive breastfeeding in B.C. are 69.5 per cent. According to best available data only 41 per cent of infants in B.C. are exclusively breast/chest fed from birth to six months,” said Lea Geiger, the provincial clinical coordinator Maternal Infant Health, with Perinatal Services BC (PSBC).
National Breastfeeding Week
(Oct. 1-7) is an opportunity to engage health-care providers and communities in a conversation about how to protect, promote and support breast/chest feeding in B.C. It aligns with the theme for World Breastfeeding Week: step up for breastfeeding
with a goal to educate, support and strengthen systems to achieve the global nutrition targets for 2025.
“One of the key reasons parents give for premature weaning is lack of support,” says Lea. “Success in breast/chest feeding is not the sole responsibility of a feeding parent – the protection, promotion and support of breast/chest feeding is a collective societal responsibility.”
“Breastfeeding may be normal and natural, but it’s not always simple and straightforward, it’s a skill, and it takes some practice. I wish I had a better sense of this before becoming a mom; I put so much pressure on myself.” admits Caeli, who gave birth to her son, Easton, in May.
Caeli had delayed milk production and that made for a few stressful days. Caeli and her husband took turns feeding Easton; she nursed and pumped as much milk as she could, and her husband helped feed him breast milk through a syringe. After 48 hours he started gaining weight and breast/chest feeding improved.
“It was scary, but there’s something special to me that we worked through it and all he’s ever had is breast milk.”
Caeli was offered an opportunity be a part of a pilot program at BC Women’s Hospital, which provided additional support. “With family far away, we were lucky to have midwife support after Easton was born, as well as a doula who was a lactation consultant –we had tons of support with breastfeeding.”
Oftentimes, getting tips from experienced mothers is a helpful supplement to formal resources. For Megan, who gave birth to her daughter in 2021, the most reassuring advice she got was from a friend.
“She told me ‘Your body will know what to do. Just trust that your body will not run out of milk for your baby, and just trust that you and your baby are going to do this together.’”
Adds Megan, “It really helped me relax, and she was right – my body did know what to do.”
Health-care providers play a unique and influential role in protecting, promoting and supporting breast/chest feeding because they have multiple interactions during the pre- and post-natal period.
“When health professionals are confident in their own capacities to support a breast/chest feeding parent, they become more likely to positively promote breast/chest feeding and offer support to parents,” adds Lea.
A number of resources are available to help health-care providers advance their knowledge and skill set when it comes to supporting breast/chest feeding.