Nova Scotia

Study says Nova Scotians not as knowledgeable about breastfeeding as they profess

Grandparents, partners and friends often happily weigh in on how the baby should sleep, or what he or she should eat. But a new study from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax has found that when it comes to infant feeding, most Nova Scotians are just wrong.

New study quizzed over 200 people to measure knowledge of infant feeding

Researchers at Mount Saint Vincent University say people are giving recommendations to new moms and dads without the evidence to back it up. (Reuters)

Most new parents are used to getting a lot of advice — both wanted and unwanted — about how best to look after their little ones.

Family and friends often happily weigh in on how the baby should sleep, or what he or she should eat. But a new study from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax has found that when it comes to feeding babies, most Nova Scotians are uninformed.

"We found that people did not know the recommendations for feeding in the first two years, but despite this they were extremely confident in their answers, and importantly, they were confident in those answers regardless of whether or not they were true," Kyly Whitfield, one of the researchers who worked on the study, told CBC's Information Morning.

Whitfield quizzed 229 people between the ages of 19 and 92, and asked them questions based on recommendations set out in Health Canada's guidelines.

The study, published at the end of November, found the majority of respondents didn't know the recommended time to introduce solids, what foods babies should eat first or how long moms should breastfeed.

Moms who were interviewed also identified how damaging messaging around breastfeeding can be.

"People will say, 'Oh, breastfeeding is natural,' but we know it's challenging, and we know that we need supports," Whitfield said.

Breast milk vs. formula

The researchers travelled across the province visiting community centres, churches and grocery stores to interview people.

One of the questions they asked was when mothers should stop breastfeeding.

"On average in Nova Scotia, people said 18 months, a year and a half. You actually should continue breastfeeding for two years and beyond, this is the recommendation around the world right now," Whitfield said.

Kyly Whitfield eating with her 15-month-old nephew, Rory. (Submitted by Kyly Whitfield)

Respondents were evenly split about whether a baby's first food should be breast milk or formula.

Whitfield said "breast milk is the ideal first food for babies."

"There's all of these nutritional factors in breast milk that we can mimic in formula, but then there's all of these, what we call non-nutritive factors, so the antibodies and the immune factors that we just can't make right now," she said.

The study notes, however, that there are complex reasons why moms might choose formula over breast milk.

Many Canadian moms who choose formula have said that the focus on "breast is best" creates stigma and ignores problems faced by mothers who cannot breastfeed.

Who scored the lowest?

Co-author Kathleen Chan, left, and student research volunteer Rachel Hilts helped conduct interviews with 229 Nova Scotians ages 19 to 92. (Submitted by Kyly Whitfield )

Whitfield said men between the ages of 19 and 29 scored the lowest on the quiz.

"These are potential fathers that are coming down the pipeline and if they're not doing, you know, their own reading or educating themselves, maybe they will have strong influences on their partner when it comes time to feed the baby," she said.

Another group that didn't do so well? Grandparents.

This group is a "huge influence on new moms when they're in this sea of information trying to make decisions around infant feeding," Whitfield said.

She said realizing how little we know about feeding babies isn't the end of the story.

"Can we have big marketing campaigns or can we put education around infant feeding in public schools so that people kind of understand that there are challenges and how to address those?" she said.


With files from CBC's Information Morning


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