Breastfeeding rates continuing to decline, according to WECHU report
Experts say women need education and support to increase breastfeeding rates
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) released a report Thursday revealing that the rate of women choosing to breastfeed is continuing to decline.
The report states that in 2017, "57.4 per cent of women were exclusively breastfeeding at hospital discharge, significantly lower than the provincial average at 61.2 per cent; in 2018, this rate declined a further five per cent."
These numbers don't come as a surprise to some breastfeeding experts — including mothers.
Danielle Anderson says she faced difficulty when it came to breastfeeding her now two-month-old son.
"I did have a little pain in my latch," she said, adding that seeking support online and the help she's received from her lactation consultant helped her.
She also said the declining rate in women breastfeeding is "sad to see."
"I think women really do want to breastfeed," Anderson said.
Megan Carlone-Mailloux, the clinical practice manager at Windsor Regional Hospitals' Family Birthing Centre, said declining breastfeeding numbers could be a result of a lack of or delay in breast milk production, which can be caused by a number of factors, including women getting pregnant at older ages, an increase in health complications and premature births.
Carlone-Mailloux added that cultural differences and personal preferences can also play a part in the decreasing numbers, as some women prefer to bottle-feed.
Jennifer Day, a board certified lactation consultant, said from her experience, the majority of her clients want to breastfeed, but are often left feeling discouraged after facing some sort of obstacle.
She said part of the reason is a lack of immediate support for women.
"A lot of families within my practice identify that they're having latch issues, maybe pain or something comparable and ... concerns of not having enough milk, low supply," Day said. "Often times, I think it's more of a perceived low supply issue and that it may not at all be something that's an issue."
She reiterated Carlone-Mailloux's point that there are cultural differences when it comes to breastfeeding and that health care professionals need to be trained in "cultural humility."
"We need to be supporting families differently," Day said. "I find, especially in marginalized communities, that there are families that come across systemic issues that can prevent them from reaching their goals or having the supports that they need to reach those goals."
Nicole Dupuis, director of health promotion with WECHU, said she doesn't know exactly why the rate in women breastfeeding in Windsor-Essex is low, but echoed Day's and Carlone-Mailloux's comments that educating expecting mothers and new parents, as well as providing the right supports, can elevate those numbers.
"We're seeing a drop in women exclusively breastfeeding at discharge. So, women are already leaving the hospital not exclusively breastfeeding," Dupuis said. "What we strive for is exclusive breastfeeding. Really, there is no other better nutrient for a baby than breast milk."
Programs available to assist with breastfeeding
Carlone-Mailoux explained that her organization offers assistance to mothers struggling with breastfeeding, or those who simply want to learn more.
"We have prenatal breastfeeding classes here at the hospital. Any family can access prenatal breastfeeding classes for free and they're welcome to bring a support person," she said, adding that they also offer access to Material Virtual Infant Nutrition Support (Mavins) — a free online forum and discussion board moderated by a lactation consultant and dietitian.
"We also promote quiet time at the hospital," Carlone-Mailloux said. "At birth, we encourage our patients to do two hours of uninterrupted skin-to-skin. If patients are agreeable to this, it promotes the baby's transition and it also promotes those natural breastfeeding instincts right from the start."
Krysta Brown — who's facing challenges breastfeeding her newborn son — said she's going to take advantage of the programs available.
"It's hard for him to latch right at the moment and my milk hasn't quite come in and the nipples do get a little bit sore," she said. "It's a learning curve for both the baby and myself. So, you each have to learn each other and try and figure it out as we go."
Dupuis said the health unit will be working on raising awareness for existing breastfeeding programs available in the city and introduce new initiatives, such as lactation consultant home visits.
WECHU will also be collaborating with Windsor Regional Hospital to offer monthly prenatal breastfeeding classes and provide breastfeeding training for nursing staff.
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