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National Breastfeeding Week: Stepping up to provide parents with more information and timely access to support

Current breast/chest feeding rates in B.C. don’t meet the global recommendation. This National Breastfeeding Week, Oct. 1-7, learn how we can all step up to support and sustain practices that safeguard breast/chest feeding.
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Smiling woman holds two young childrenFor both of her pregnancies, Serena wanted to exclusively breast/chest feed as long as she could. “I knew breastfeeding was the best source of nourishment and a way to bond with my baby,” says Serena. 

Serena attended a class on breast/chest feeding through a local parent education centre and learned more about breastfeeding from listening to and watching other parents nurse. 

"I thought it was intuitive, like something that a woman’s body is designed to do from day one. I had no idea how incredibly physically demanding and emotionally draining it could be.” 

Smiling woman sitting in rocking chair holds newborn babyFor new mother Natasha, who gave birth to her son in August, conversations about breast/chest feeding didn’t factor into visits with her doctor.  Looking back, she wishes she had asked her doctor more questions about breast/chest feeding prior to her son arriving. “I realized I had little knowledge and understanding about what our bodies go through post pregnancy, when my milk would come in, and I completely underestimated the potential challenges and anxiety associated with learning how to breastfeed.” 

Everyone has a role to protect, promote and support breast/chest feeding

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.” 

Support for parents

Smiling man and woman hold smiling baby“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.” 

Resources for parents

Breast/chest feeding families can get support from online modules that are self-paced with videos, attend virtual meetings for peer-based breastfeeding support hosted by La Leche League Canada, and get tips from Baby’s Best Chance | HealthLink BCCanada Public Health Services, Pacific Post Partum Support Society and Lactation Consultants.

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.”

The role of health-care providers

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.

Resources for health-care providers

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. 

B.C. has an accredited course on breast/chest feeding, plus guidelines and tools, to help provide evidence-based care to ensure all families get off to the best start. Implementing the Baby-Friendly Initiative Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding helps create a supportive environment for infant feeding, regardless of the feeding method, through consistent services and messages. Providing counseling, education, immediate support at delivery and lactation management can increase exclusive breastfeeding by almost 50 per cent.  


Perinatal Services BC; pregnancy
Children's Health

 

 

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