'As front-line as you get': Families protest cuts to breastfeeding help

Families gathered outside the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday morning to protest cuts to the lactation program at Women's Hospital.

Women's Hospital to lose lactation counselling program as part of $83M cost-savings plan

Protesters sign their support for hospital lactation consultants at a protest outside the Manitoba Legislative Building on Tuesday morning. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Dozens of people gathered outside the Manitoba Legislature on Tuesday morning to protest cuts to the lactation program at Women's Hospital.

In mid-July, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority announced it will be cutting a service that assists new mothers to breastfeed their babies at Health Sciences Centre to help meet its goal of finding $83 million in total savings this year.

Brett Mann, a mother of two, is one of the organizers behind Tuesday's rally. She said lactation consultants provide a vital role not only ensuring babies get enough milk but also in easing stress on new mothers.

"Having that first point of contact right in hospital and knowing you can have that support ongoing I think is very important to a lot of parents," she said.

Protest organizers say cuts to the lactation program at Women's Hospital are 'crazy.' (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A spokesperson for Manitoba's Health Minister said Monday while the lactation consultation program is being cut, new moms still have options in Winnipeg to help with breastfeeding.

"These services continue to be available where they are most accessible to new mothers, which is in the community. This includes one-on-one consultations and breastfeeding clinics," the spokesperson said in an email.

"We recognize the importance of breastfeeding supports and education, which is why the WRHA is expanding lactation support training to include the full complement of nurses on postpartum wards."

Both a nurse educator and clinical nurse specialist will be hired, the spokesperson said, to train nurses to assist new mothers with breastfeeding.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said providing this training will ensure lactation support is available around the clock. Currently lactation consultants are only available for 10 hours per day.

Breastfeeding support is available at six clinics in Winnipeg.

'A safety net' for mothers

Mann said she has her doubts whether nurses have the ability to take on the sometimes time-consuming role of coaxing a newborn to feed properly.

"People need to understand that this type of service isn't frivolous, it's not redundant, it's not something you can just roll into duties of other nurses, it's important," said Mann. "I think it's almost as front-line as you get."

Julie Mungall saw a lactation consultant at Women's Hospital in 2012 when she gave birth to her daughter.

While she attended courses in the community including the La Leche League to learn how to breastfeed, she still saw a difference in the kind of one-on-one care offered by the lactation consultant.

"Yes, you can go into your community, you can go to breastfeeding support, you can do all of those things but learning how to nurse your baby before you go home, that's important stuff and to take away those services — it's crazy," said Mungall.

During her first night with her daughter, Mungall said she struggled to get her to latch to the point where she felt like a "nervous wreck." 

"It was so painful I was crying," she said.

She credits a second visit from a lactation consultant for turning things around. 

"Without that lactation consultant being there for me that night I wouldn't have had such a positive outcome," said Mungall, who ended up breastfeeding her daughter for three years.

The Family Feeding Support Picnic began at 10:30 a.m. at the Manitoba Legislature grounds on Tuesday.


Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa. Previously, she worked as a reporter in Winnipeg and as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at