Do you remember the anticipation and excitement of becoming a new parent or grandparent? How about those sleepless nights and tiring days during the first weeks after baby’s birth? If you’re like most people, it’s not easy to forget the steep learning curve of early parenthood and caregiving, not to mention the daunting task of having to make countless decisions around preparing for your baby including clothing, diapering, bathing and feeding.
In support World Breastfeeding Week taking place this year from October 1 to 7, let’s look at some interesting facts about infant feeding decisions in Newfoundland and Labrador, and ask Olive Goobie, a dedicated lactation consultant at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, why supporting breastfeeding families is so important.
If you were a parent in this province in the 1970s or 80s, you may have memories of supplementing your baby with evaporated or canned milk; an array of different formulas; or possibly tucking yourself in a small, private backroom to breastfeed. But, should you ask your great-great grandmother about her infant feeding practices, she may tell you that she breastfed a dozen children or more, possibly until they self-weaned at the age of four or five!
When history repeats itself
Breastfeeding initiation rates in Newfoundland and Labrador have increased substantially over the last decade. Interestingly, statistics demonstrate that breastfeeding has been shifting back to becoming the new norm – a movement that’s worth celebrating not only during World Breastfeeding Week, but every time a mom nurses her child!
The reason for this trend is because making the decision about how and what to feed your baby is influenced by cultural norms and practices. Research in Newfoundland and Labrador suggests that an important predictor to breastfeeding is largely related to Nan’s influence, and whether she breastfed her babies!
Sustaining breastfeeding with Olive
Like Olive, lactation consultants around the globe are uniquely trained experts in providing help and support for breastfeeding in hospitals and in the community.
Olive maintains that breastfeeding holds many benefits for both moms and babes. Not only does breastfeeding protect infants and young children from infection and disease, but it significantly decreases the risk of disease in the mother. For these reasons, Health Canada recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months and beyond, with the appropriate introduction of solid foods.
But Olive has lots more to share about breastfeeding and why she loves her job. Her passion is to help moms, babies and families to become successful in initiating and maintaining breastfeeding. Check out the below Q&A to learn more about Olive’s role in sustaining breastfeeding together with women and their families – which is also the theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week!
Why did you become a lactation consultant?
“I’ve always loved being around moms and babies. After obtaining my educational achievements in Northern Ireland, I worked in pediatrics as a registered nurse and then completed a midwifery course in Scotland.
When I came to Canada in 1978, I worked as a midwife in Labrador, but later, took a position at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre. While I loved worked closely with new families in my role as a midwife, I loved helping women with breastfeeding even more! I wanted to learn more about lactation, so I decided to become an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant. The rest, as they say, is history!”
What is the role of lactation consultants?
“A lactation consultant plays a unique role when invited into the life of a new parent and baby team. Lactation consultants are often thought of as part teacher, parent, cheerleader, coach and advisor when it comes to helping people with breastfeeding.
When the baby finally arrives, it’s such an exciting time for all. However, it’s easy for new parents to become overwhelmed, vulnerable and challenged.
Every parent I’ve met along my journey wants to be the best parent in the world to their new child. But often, pressure to succeed can get in the way of starting breastfeeding and continuing with it. As a society, we have to remember that breastfeeding is a learned skill where both mom and her baby have to work together in order to be successful. Lactation consultants are there to help build that skill together with moms and their babies.”
How do lactation consultants work with others to support breastfeeding?
“I work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Janeway, a special nursery for newborns and babies of up to three months of age who are born too early, are sick, or who may need surgery. Most of these little ones start off with IV fluids and progress gradually until they are big and strong enough to attempt to feed orally.
As a lactation consultant, I work with each mom and baby team individually, ranging from getting a milk supply established to introducing the baby to the mother’s breast. Moms and babes progress at their own speed, depending on gestational age and medical condition.
Eastern Health offers special breastfeeding clinics where lactation consultants liaise with family doctors and public health nurses to provide individualized lactation support, ongoing clinical follow-up and counselling to families who have critical needs. Families who have been identified as having difficulties with breastfeeding while in hospital or by consultation with public health nurses are referred to breastfeeding clinics.”
What has been your biggest reward from helping families with breastfeeding?
“The families I work with often find themselves stressed; moms are working hard to maintain their milk supply until their babies can begin to feed. Breastfeeding babies in NICU require a big commitment for new moms and their families – a process which can take weeks or months before becoming successful. Some families have to travel back and forth across the province to care for their other children while their baby in hospital is receiving care. I admire women in these situations – they, along with the support of their families, give so much of themselves selflessly every day.
I find it heartwarming and so rewarding to see parents become confident in their new role as their babies grow stronger over time.”
What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in family units during your career?
“A big change I’ve seen in my time was when longer maternity leave was introduced in Canada. Back when I had my babies, the norm was 16 weeks of maternity leave. Breastfeeding can more easily be accomplished with this wonderful benefit.
But, the biggest change I’ve seen to date is the involvement of one’s partner in bringing a child into this world. With a significant other to help keep it all together, the process of parenting becomes easier. It’s not easy to do it alone, and as a society, we need to be cognizant of what makes a family. We should try keeping in mind that as part of our culture here in Newfoundland and Labrador, many partners work away from home. Often, one parent in these family units have to rely on friends or other family members for support. It truly takes a village to raise a child.”
What are some of the challenges new parents face?
“When a new mom is strongly committed to breastfeeding, and for some reason it doesn’t go well or her milk doesn’t last until the baby can start to feed, she will often blame herself. I always try to remind these women that we need to count success in small steps. I say to them, ‘every drop you’ve made, you’ve given to your baby. You can’t do better than that.’
Today there is so much information available at the click of a button, 24-hours a day. New parents often feel bombarded with information and as a result, it’s hard for them to tease out what information is sound or helpful. Despite the digital age we live in today, many parents that I work with still want information that is pertinent to their unique situation on a one-on-one basis.”
What surprises you the most about working with breastfeeding families?
“Parents are not always prepared for their baby to be born early. As a result, they haven’t had the opportunity to think much about how and what they are going to feed their baby. Since breastmilk acts like medicine for small or sick babies, many new mothers agree to pump breastmilk, but had no intentions of ever breastfeeding prior to baby arriving.
In these situations, I’ve seen mothers become some of the most committed breast feeders I’ve ever seen in my career. These moms become so proud of contributing to their baby’s health and wellbeing. Its situations like this that inspire other families to take up breastfeeding.”
Over the last three years, breastfeeding rates in the eastern region of Newfoundland and Labrador have increased by six per cent. What have been the reasons for this increase?
“At Eastern Health, we’re always striving to follow evidence-based guidelines for better practice. Our goal is to build a stronger breastfeeding culture by closely monitoring breastfeeding practices; resolving issues related to breastfeeding; and promoting the value of breastfeeding. While Eastern Health has taken many steps to improve breastfeeding rates across the region, I can think of three key initiatives that have helped families decide to breastfeed.
Firstly, at Eastern Health, we promote a client- and family-centred approach to care. When you’ve had your baby at one of our hospitals, we facilitate what’s referred to as “rooming-in,” which helps keep mothers and healthy newborns together in one room for 24-hours a day.
Rooming-in offers countless benefits for both mom and baby. It promotes bonding, helps new moms learn their baby’s hunger cues more quickly and it provides comfort to both mom and her baby. With rooming-in, routine procedures can also take place with the baby kept skin-to-skin on mom. Babies are also encouraged to nurse within the first hour after delivery, which is when they have a strong drive to eat.
Secondly, since 2015, Eastern Health has begun delaying babies’ first bath 24-hours after birth. This practice helps improve a baby’s abilities to control their body temperature; level their blood sugar; and it promotes bonding and breastfeeding.”
Thirdly, implemented in 2011, Eastern Health follows a regional breastfeeding policy as a guiding document to support best practices in infant and maternal care. The policy is based on the guidelines, Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, which has been established by the Baby Friendly Initiative, a program developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Hospitals and community health services following the 10 steps have proven to provide the best support for all families.”
Practice makes perfect
During World Breastfeeding Week, let’s take the opportunity to talk about further normalizing breastfeeding and think about how we can help support and encourage breastfeeding moms in the workplace and in our communities. Remember, learning to breastfeed takes time and practice makes perfect. The more support new parents have, the greater the chances are of sustaining breastfeeding together. #thebaybreastfeeds
To find out why breastfeeding is best for you and your baby, check out 10 Great Reasons to Breastfeed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. If you are looking for breastfeeding support groups in the eastern region of Newfoundland and Labrador, please check out our Breastfeeding Support page. ■
Happy World Breastfeeding Week!
This story was written by Janine Woodrow, provincial breastfeeding consultant with Eastern Health and chair of the Baby Friendly Council of NL.