New mothers sometimes lack the support or proper information when it comes to feeding their newborns.
An international certification course introduced to the Aurora College Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program this school year hopes to ensure health providers are better equipped to help new parents carry out best practices for baby nourishment.
The college is believed to be the first in Canada that has formally incorporated the World Health Organization’s and UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) recommendations for breastfeeding and improved maternal health into its nursing program.
Dr. Pertice Moffitt, a health programs instructor with Aurora College, who has studied breastfeeding practices in the Northwest Territories, Rosalee Taylor, a masters nursing student and Sheila Cruz, a doctoral nursing student, spoke to Yellowknifer last week to discuss the benefits of BFI in the North.
The three had participated in a research presentation at the Research Day event for nursing students at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, Dec. 4. The presentation, called “Bringing the BFI 20-hour modules into the BSN Curriculum: A contextual Pedagogy,” laid out how new modules of training within the BSN program that will better train health care providers on how to properly promote the benefits of breastfeeding and how to provide a healthy start for babies over the four years of study.
“We have recognized the need for nursing students to be knowledgeable and trained with the infant feeding based on the BFI which is an internationally integrated approach to infant feeding and helping mothers and helping babies,” explained Cruz.
“Our goal is to incorporate it in our curriculum so that when our northern nurses graduate, they all have that extra training that is actually a need here in the North.”
When nursing students graduate, they will have a special accreditation that is marketable to hospitals and health care clinics for the service. But what’s most important from the new training is that mothers are able to make the best choices on baby feeding practices, said Moffitt.
“When you are a new mom, you have to remember that having a baby and feeding them is a new thing,” said Moffitt. “People just think, well, you have breasts so you must be able to breastfeed.”
Formula feeding vs. breastfeeding
In fact there can be confusion and stress as to whether formula feeding or breastfeeding is better, she said. Although the BFI certification and the college aim to encourage breastfeeding as a more positive option, it is important young mothers have the confidence and proper information to make the best decision for themselves, she said.
“It’s really about giving really good information so that mothers are so well informed that they can really see the benefit in breastfeeding,” Moffitt said. “And make an informed choice.
“In the past there has been a lot of stigma toward people who would bottle-feed. What was happening is women gave baby formula – and it was for a number of reasons and based on personal choice – but they felt really bad about it. They felt marginalized, stigmatized and like a bad mom. So we’re trying to address that as well.”
Moffitt said all types of nurses and front-line workers need to be trained to give the best information based on best health practices. Better training would also improve mother-baby bonding and responsive parenting, promoting skin-to-skin care and the safe feeding of infant formula.
“One of the things that led us saying we wanted to have BFI certification in the curriculum is that women in hospitals and birthing centers also need to get the same instruction,” she said. “And public health nurses and all of the front line workers need to be giving women the same message.”
Moffitt explained that although there may be high initiation rates of breastfeeding by mothers – that is, up to the first six months of the baby’s life – there are different reasons as to why young mothers may choose to give up breastfeeding for formula or bottle feeding soon after leaving the hospital.
Sometimes those reasons may be due to marketing pressures, such as in the case where formula providers market their product “as good as breast milk” which is untrue, she said.
In other cases, breastfeeding can be discouraged socially because of the sexualization of breasts in culture or because of misunderstandings as to when it is appropriate to breastfeed with illness, she said.
She also noted that there are a host of other benefits that breastfeeding support can provide, ranging from being more cost-effective than buying formula in communities, to preserving traditional Indigenous practices to fighting obesity.
The Department of Health and Social Services stated in an email Tuesday that the government is committed to improving breastfeeding and early maternal care across the NWT, as per an effort by an organization called the Breastfeeding Committee of Canada.
“The BFI program describes the best practices and interventions that health care facilities, including hospitals, health centres and public health, can implement in order to promote safe infant feeding and support families to build confidence and skills to develop close relationships with their infants,” stated Damien Healy, department spokesperson.
Moms, Boobs and Babies
Toni Anderson, co-chair of Moms, Boobs, and Babies, a mom-to-mom support group for breastfeeding and other pregnancy challenges, said the organization is very much supportive of the nursing program taking on the BFI course.
For several years the group has been running a peer support training program based on the Ontario-based Best Start resource centre which offers breastfeeding support, among other help.
“We are excited for the college to offer their own adapted program because when nurses graduate they will have a good solid understanding of how to support a breastfeeding mother,” Anderson said.
“Breastfeeding mothers are found throughout the hospital and not just in labour and delivery but can be in surgery or other units. So it is really important that nursing students and eventually nurses are given good, solid, evidence based information on how to support a breastfeeding mother.”