Oct. 1 to 7 Proclaimed Breastfeeding Week

Manitoba is launching a new strategy to promote and support breastfeeding, recognizing the many benefits the practice has for mothers and babies and setting a goal of having 85 per cent of mothers begin breastfeeding their babies at birth, Health Minister Theresa Oswald announced today.

“Welcoming a new baby into the home is one of the most exciting events a family experiences,” said Oswald.  “However, breastfeeding is not always easy and many mothers face challenges.  By giving mothers support, encouragement and access to resources and information, we hope even more Manitoba women will choose breastfeeding as a healthy way to bond with their babies.”

The strategy identifies how mothers, families, health-care providers, health-care facilities and others can work together to improve access to information and other resources to support breastfeeding, Oswald said.  It also outlines other targets including:

* increasing the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to six months and continued breastfeeding to two years and beyond;

* having 75 per cent of all birthing hospitals receive Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation by 2018; and

* narrowing the gap between breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity and duration between northern and southern Manitoba, urban, rural, and isolated communities as well as between different socio-economic groups.

“Just as babies thrive on breastfeeding, mothers thrive with the support of peers and community members,” said Miyoko Rasmussen, vice-chair, La Leche League Canada.  “We applaud the revised breastfeeding strategy as it calls for increasing opportunities for networking and different support programs to work together including mother-to-mother support, peer breastfeeding support and access to community clinics.”

As part of the province’s strategy, all regional health authorities are moving toward Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation in hospitals, community health offices and other facilities.  This international accreditation program was developed by the World Health Organization and UNICEF and has increased breastfeeding rates, reduced complications for mothers and babies, and improved mothers’ health-care experiences globally.  In addition to improving breastfeeding initiation and duration rates, Baby Friendly facilities are better able to support those mothers whose babies are not breastfed by providing individual teaching about alternatives and recognizing their babies’ feeding needs and cues.

The minister released the breastfeeding strategy at the annual Baby Friendly Manitoba conference in Winnipeg, where she also presented Dr. Patricia Martens with a lifetime achievement award for her continued dedication to the Baby Friendly Initiative and breastfeeding awareness.  Martens is currently the director of the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and a professor at the University of Manitoba.  She was the province’s first internationally certified lactation consultation in 1987 and a provincial leader with La Leche League Canada in 1984.

“I am truly overwhelmed by this honour,” said Martens.  “Our own research at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy has shown time and again the importance of breastfeeding on infant and child health.  I am looking forward to the next major milestone in Manitoba when the first hospital receives its Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation, something I believe is well within reach.”

Oswald said the province has proclaimed Oct. 1 to 7 as Breastfeeding Week to recognize its importance for the health of Manitobans, beginning in infancy but with demonstrated health benefits over a lifetime.  Breastfeeding has been associated with reduced obesity, reduced chronic diseases including Type II diabetes, improved oral health and improved early childhood development, especially for children born to low-income mothers.

The minister noted the breastfeeding strategy is supported by the Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Report on the Health Status of Manitobans in 2011, which recommended exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding beyond.  The report also highlighted the link between asthma and exclusive breastfeeding for less than four months and called for increased support for breastfeeding initiation.  Enhancing breastfeeding supports, services and education was also identified as a priority in the Manitoba Women’s Health Strategy in 2011.

The first Manitoba Provincial Breastfeeding Strategy was developed in 2002.  The updated strategy is available at www.gov.mb.ca/health/bfm/strategy.html.