There's a new effort to try and boost the number of breastfeeding mothers in Newfoundland and Labrador. Family doctors will have access to a toolkit developed by doctors, nurses and lactation consultants.

Dr. Anne Drover

Dr. Anne Drover cares for newborn babies at the Janeway hospital in St. John's. (Jane Adey/CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador currently has the lowest rate of breastfeeding among new mothers at 70 per cent. The national average is 90 per cent. 

Dr. Amanda Pendergast interviewed 20 general practitioners in 2010 to try and find out why they felt breastfeeding rates were so low. 

She says doctors just didn't have enough information about how to encourage women.

"It was something I heard consistently from many family physicians," explained Pendergast.

Pendergast says the new breastfeeding guide for doctors gives tips on how to handle many different scenarios with their patients.

"Family physicians knew the basics of what to do, but they really needed a little bit more of educational support as to how to deal with the more complicated cases," she said.

Dr. Anne Drover cares for newborns at the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John's. She says this province has lost the culture of breastfeeding, and mothers need to be reminded of the benefits.

"Every time that baby is being breastfed, that baby is getting inoculation against any viruses or bacteria that that mom has been exposed to: ear infections, pneumonia and gastrointestinal infections," explained Drover.

Multiple health benefits

Drover says the long-term benefits need to be highlighted by family doctors as well. 

Dr. Amanda Pendergast

Dr. Amanda Pendergast is a family physician in St. John's. (Jane Adey/CBC)

"There's decreasing rates of obesity, allergy, asthma, and there's newer information coming out that says breastfeeding is going to protect your child against many immune-mediated diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease, which we have a great percentage of in this province," she said.

According to Drover, doctors also need to talk about the many benefits for mothers.

"We have a really high rate of obesity in adults, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and heart disease, and there is compelling evidence from large nursing studies that for every additional year that a mom breastfeeds, she reduces her risk of all those diseases," said Drover.

Dr. Drover and Dr. Pendergast have been conducting one-on-one visits with family physicians offices in St. John's to deliver the breastfeeding guides. They say they hope to make the guides available to general practitioners across the province.

More information about the new toolkit is available on the Baby-Friendly Newfoundland and Labrador website.

"It just stands to reason that it's human milk for a human child, and doesn't that answer the question why it's the best," said Drover.