A conference of the Canadian Paediatric Society brought together many experts who had one big question on their minds. If so many women know the health benefits for them and their children, why are breastfeeding rates still so low?
Despite an increased spotlight on breastfeeding and it’s benefits, the number of women breastfeeding has not increased much in Canada. Many of the health experts are pointing at themselves for not offering enough support and information that would help women be more successful at breastfeeding. They are also looking at formula companies that make more money the fewer women breastfeed.
When it comes to doctors, many realize that they themselves lack the training necessary to help breastfeeding mothers. Few family doctors and pediatricians understand various techniques that mothers can do to fix a problem. In the US, formula manufacturers often sponsor doctor’s offices with promotional gifts and literature that make it very difficult to give unbiased help.
“They don’t necessarily know how to counsel the mother on how to breastfeed,” said Catherine-Maude Pound, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Ottawa and consulting pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
According to a survey in 2009, at least 90 percent of new mothers start out breastfeeding. Unfortunately, that number cuts in half by 3 months, and drops to only 14 percent by 6 months. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years, and beyond for as long as mother and child want. Most health care organizations agree that longer breastfeeding is best.
Breastfeeding for longer terms has amazing health benefits to both mother and child. While breastmilk passes on important immune system strengthening factors and increases overall health, mothers that breastfeed longer significantly reduce their risks for diabetes and some cancers. Long term breastfeeding is a public health necessity.
Researchers say only 10 percent of women honestly have no interest in breastfeeding. Others find blocks in their way that prevent them from having a solid breastfeeding relationship. One of the biggest is a lack of support and education from qualified providers.
The key issue is that mothers often don’t receive sufficient guidance on proper methods of breastfeeding from the health-care system, said Jean Kouba, president of the Canadian Lactation Consultant Association. Although there are lactation consultants in Canada, there aren’t enough to meet the need, Ms. Kouba said.
Dr. Pound feels that doctors should receive training in breastfeeding problems and techniques. She also wants fewer doctors to encourage formula feeding when problems arise. Another solution is to create more hospitals that abide by the “baby-friendly hospital initiative” launched by the World Health Organization and Unicef in 1991. Hospitals that follow these guidelines would not offer infant formula except as a medical need. Giving out free formula samples would also be banned.
According to Judy Shearer, associate vice-president of mental health and addictions programs at Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ont, many hospitals hesitate to follow these guidelines. Despite knowing that breastfeeding is healthier, formula companies spend millions of dollars on hospitals to get their product there.
“If a formula company is paying for something or giving you money, what obligation do you have to that formula company?” said Ms. Shearer.
– Summer, staff writer
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