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It takes a community to support breastfeeding
When I first returned to Richmond after studying abroad and working on the east coast, I never would have imagined that I would have been asked to join a breastfeeding advisory group.
Coming into my second year with this group and reflecting on the past year I realize how much I have learned and also how supported I have been; that my opinions and questions are met with encouragement and interest.
Good food access for all requires an engaged focus on those who are most helpless and unable to fend for themselves. Breastfeeding is an expression of good food access that promotes the strong, healthy development of babies into well-functioning and able adults. Almost all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.
Many mothers are off to a strong start, breastfeeding their babies. However, after a few weeks to months post delivery, breastfeeding starts to decline. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
In order to sustain breastfeeding, mothers need to be supported. Traditional support has come from the family unit. However, as societies change, a broader set of formal and informal supports are needed (e.g. health workers, lactation consultants, community organizations, friends and family). This year’s World Breastfeeding Week—Breastfeeding Support —Close to Mothers runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7 and brings attention to the need for formal (healthcare, workplace and employment, government) and informal (family and friends, community groups) supports to sustain breastfeeding.
There are multiple opportunities to support breastfeeding within our existing institutions particularly the health care system and the workplace. Within our health care system, postnatal care can facilitate bonding and optimal infant feeding. Health care workers are also trained in a variety of counselling skills to provide advice and guidance. Workplaces can be more supportive of breastfeeding mothers by facilitating and encouraging breastfeeding and storage of breast milk. As well, the provision of paid maternity and paternity leave is also proven to benefit families by reducing stress and increasing family support.
Husbands/partners/fathers, grandparents, extended family and friends are a mother’s immediate and continued support network. These family members are critical in the emotional, mental and physical well-being of mothers. Support during and after pregnancy reduces stress, empowers women and increases mother’s confidence in her ability to breastfeed over months. Helping out with tasks like making supper, caring for baby so mom can sleep, make a big difference for mom. Community can also support women by removing judgement and encouraging breastfeeding activities within public and private spaces.
The key to ensuring that breastfeeding rates are sustained over the optimal time period is continuous daily supports for mothers. It takes a community of people to create safe, inclusive spaces where mothers can do the best for their children.
To learn more, visit the Richmond Public Library’s Brighouse branch on Sept. 30, Oct. 2, or 3 from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 or talk to your healthcare professional.
Colin Dring is with Richmond Food Security Society, which works to ensure that all people in the community have access to safe, nutritious, culturally appropriate foods that strengthen our environment and society. If you want to contribute and learn more about our activities, visit our website at www.richmondfoodsecurity.org