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Grant helps health care workers provide better breastfeeding support for new moms

Toronto, February 6, 2015

By Kate Manicom

Infographic about the impacts of age, income and drug use on breastfeeding: Percentage of Ontario women who breastfed exclusively when they left hospital in 2012-2013: 61.5 per cent; Breastfeeding rate in neighbourhoods with the highest median household incomes: 68 per cent; Breastfeeding rate in neighbourhoods with the lowest median household incomes: 55 per cent; Percentage of women with self-reported drug use in pregnancy: 42 per cent; Percentage of women who did not self-report drug use during pregnancy: 62 per cent

Breast milk is the most beneficial food a mother can give to her new baby. However, there are many obstacles, both physical and societal, that prevent a mother from breastfeeding. A 2014 study by Health Nexus’s Best Start Resource Centre, a health promotion organization focused on preconception and prenatal health and early childhood development, found that factors such as a woman’s age, ethnicity, education, social support and use of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can all negatively affect the likelihood that she will breastfeed.

St. Michael’s catchment area includes many marginalized women who may be less likely to breastfeed. Thanks to a $50,000 grant from Health Nexus, a group of physicians and nurses on St. Michael’s Family Health Team has developed a project to provide more support for women who face barriers to breastfeeding.

Although part of the funding goes to patient education, much of it will help teach health care workers how to become involved at various stages in an expectant or new mother’s care to help her make an informed decision about breastfeeding. This can help them to identify and address challenges to breastfeeding early.

Dr. Lisa Graves, a family physician at St. Michael’s, said the project has already improved support for mothers who visit the family medicine sites.

“Often when we introduce clinical interventions we forget to communicate this information to clerical staff,” said Dr. Graves. “When we shared this project with our clerical staff, they suggested offering nursing mothers a private room to breastfeed. It was a wonderful idea that showed educating as many people as possible helps to create a breastfeeding-friendly environment. It’s an important lesson we’re sharing beyond our own team.”

The grant includes developing education materials for physicians and nurses across Ontario.

Dr. Nasreen Ramji, a family physician at the St. Jamestown Health Centre and a researcher with the project, said the benefits of breastfeeding extend beyond providing newborns with vitamins and nutrients they need to develop and helping to protect them against disease.

“It’s a cost-effective way to provide babies and toddlers a healthy, whole food,” said Dr. Ramji. “If a woman can breastfeed comfortably, it can help to reinforce the bond between her and her child.”

Dr. Graves said the project is not about pushing every woman to breastfeed. Instead, she stressed, “It’s giving every woman the support – the strength, power and information – to make the decision that’s right for her.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.