British Columbia leads Canada for breastfeeding/chestfeeding rates: 91 per cent of B.C. families start breastfeeding and approximately 41 per cent continue to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended six months. Some parents aren't able or choose not to breastfeed/chestfeed, and all families should be fully supported in whatever decision is right for them.
Too often, breastfeeding/chestfeeding is seen as only the responsibility of families, explains Lea Geiger, the provincial coordinator of the Baby-Friendly Initiative with Perinatal Services BC. "In fact, all of us – health-care providers, employers, communities and friends – play a vital role in supporting and sustaining practices that safeguard breastfeeding."
Now more than ever, families need support to navigate breastfeeding/chestfeeding questions and concerns raised by the pandemic, adds Lea. "We know that breastfeeding protects babies when they are sick and when others are sick around them, and that human milk has antibodies and immune factors that protect both baby's and mother's health."
Breastfeeding/chestfeeding is more successful when family members and friends are involved. To help, partners, family members and friends can:
• Offer emotional support. Provide encouragement for parents talk about any questions or worries about breastfeeding/chestfeeding. It's normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, or scared – especially with the uncertainty of COVID-19. Breastfeeding families can get support from local Public Health Services, Pacific Post Partum Support Society, Lactation Consultants, and La Leche League Leaders.
• Offer practical support. Help with baby or childcare, household chores, and take the baby out for a walk to let parents sleep.
• Share and participate in virtual peer supports. Public health services like telephone counseling, virtual supports, home and office visits, and breastfeeding clinics are other great sources of support and guidance. Look for services nearby. Families can attend virtual meetings for peer-based breastfeeding support, hosted by La Leche League Canada.
Whether on the bus, at the pool or park, all parents have the legal right to nurse their children in public in British Columbia. Asking a person who is breastfeeding/chestfeeding their child to move or cover up is discriminatory and illegal.
Everyone in B.C. can help build a breastfeeding-friendly culture:
• Normalize and support breastfeeding/chestfeeding everywhere. Create breastfeeding-friendly spaces at doctor's offices, hospital and public spaces, and encourage posting the universal symbol welcoming breastfeeding.
• Create and promote baby-friendly workplace practices. Leaders can support new parents by helping them plan the transition back to work and providing the space and time required for human milk feeding. Employers and colleagues can speak up to actively support nursing parents.
• Advocate within your community. Evaluate the support breastfeeding families have in your community, and help champion changes as needed. Are parents able to nurse in public places? Do public places offer a private, safe and clean area to breastfeed/chestfeed if requested?
Health-care providers are instrumental in giving families the information they need to make the best decisions for their baby.
“When health-care providers are up-to-date and skilled in delivering consistent, evidence-based breastfeeding support, it makes a huge difference for families" explained Lea Geiger, the provincial coordinator of the Baby-Friendly Initiative with Perinatal Services BC. Health-care providers have many options to build breastfeeding support competencies, including:
• Learn more about the Baby-Friendly Initiative care practices and competencies. B.C. has an accredited course on breastfeeding, plus guidelines and tools to help you provide evidence-based care for your patients. Do a self-appraisal and identify your learning needs around the latest evidence on infant feeding and the introduction of solid foods.
• Recognize how cultural safety and humility connect to breastfeeding support. Family-centered maternal and newborn care respects cultural differences between individuals, families and communities. Culturally safe care is important when providing breastfeeding support. Learn more from Perinatal Services practice resource for Indigenous families and First Nations Health Authority resources.
• Make inclusive language choices. PSBC uses the terms breastfeeding and mother but some parents might prefer chestfeeding, nursing, or human milk feeding and language that isn't gendered. Learn more about gender inclusive language with Trans Care BC's resources, and lactation language guidelines from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
Milk from a baby's mother is always the first choice as it provides babies with the antibodies to fight disease and infection. However, that's not always possible. In those cases, donor milk is an option. BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre operates a milk bank for families in B.C. Most of the milk bank is given to sick or very tiny babies in neonatal intensive care units.