British Columbia

Breastfeeding 'contract' at B.C. hospitals alienating some moms

Mothers in B.C.'s Fraser Health region are being asked to sign a new breastfeeding plan containing dire warnings about formula use that is causing anxiety among some moms.

Mothers are being asked to sign a breastfeeding plan that warns against the use of formula

A woman breastfeeds her daughter at a restaurant. ((Mark Blinch/Reuters))

Mothers in B.C.'s Fraser Health region, located east of Vancouver, are being asked to sign a new breastfeeding plan containing dire warnings about formula use that is causing anxiety among some moms.

The "contract" contains severe warnings that are upsetting some mothers, including those who have trouble providing enough milk for their newborn infants.

"Even one feed of formula can damage the coating [that protects the baby's gut] and make illness more likely," warns the breastfeeding plan entitled Did You Know...?.

Fraser Health says the document is simply a guide to help mothers develop their own breastfeeding goals. In fact, the handout does include formula as an alternative to breastfeeding along with "mixed feeding."

But it makes it clear in stark terms these are not the preferred methods.

"Babies who do not receive breast milk are more likely to get significant illness and disease," says the handout. The listed risks include:

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Colds and flu, ear and chest infections
  • Diabetes
  • Certain childhood cancers
  • Bowel diseases
  • Obesity
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

"Mothers who mainly feed their babies formula have some higher risks," it says. These risks include:

  • Type II diabetes
  • Bleeding problems after childbirth
  • Breast cancer after menopause 
  • Ovarian cancer

At the bottom of the handout, the mothers are asked to indicate which feeding method they plan to use and to sign and date the plan, like a contract.

Anxiety raised

However, some mothers on the online website says the breastfeeding handout is increasing their anxiety and in some cases, promoting shame.

One new mother explains how she planned on breastfeeding her son exclusively, but her son wasn't satisfied and wasn't gaining weight. She sought help from a maternity clinic and her family doctor.

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      "I received great care from all of the professionals I visited," she said.

      "However, I ultimately felt alone. As I began supplementing with formula, I remember being in tears numerous times feeling inadequate as a woman and mother."

      One post from another mother says her pediatrician recommended her baby be fed formula because the infant was premature, and she refused to sign the contract.

      "I found the form to be insulting and upsetting," she says. "It gave the impression I was putting my son at risk if I followed the doctor’s direction. It implied he would have a higher risk of getting cancer, even."

      When reached for a response, Fraser Health apologized for the pamphlet, which it said was old. It says it is rushing to put out a new one with better wording. The health authority says it wasn't their intention to offend. It was simply providing information to help women make informed decisions. 

      On mobile? Click here to read the breastfeeding plan


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