Wednesday 24 July, 2019

Fulbright Scholar: Give your children a better future by breastfeeding

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) was recently successful in its bid to be recertified under the World Health Organization's (WHO) Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BHFI).

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While this process was ongoing, American Fulbright Scholar, Julissa Thompson, left her native Bronx, New York to assist in establishing a national data bank on childhood nutrition in Barbados. 

With a major in psychology, she has a keen interest in the psychological impact of breastfeeding or the lack thereof, on persons. That interest was instrumental in her choosing to conduct her studies in Barbados. She spoke to Loop News about the journey which led her to the island.

"I majored in psychology in my undergraduate education, while also working as a research assistant on a breastfeeding study there [Rochester, New York]. 

"At that time, I understood that breastfeeding protection is a social justice issue and disproportionately affects black and low-income communities in the States. As the child of Afro-Caribbean parents in an immigrant community in the States, I was curious to find a more 'pure' understanding of the influence of race, culture and class on breastfeeding ideas and experience.

"Research has already been done relaying breastfeeding to later psychological development in Barbados and I figured this is a great place to explore two fields that I think are important," said the scholar whose parents were born in Jamaica. 

American Fulbright Scholar, Julissa Thompson.


So what exactly did she come to the island to do?

"Conducting a research project on childhood nutrition. As such, my goal is to visit each polyclinic on the island and take anthropometric measurements, interview mothers about their feeding experiences and other factors related to nutrition. I'm on Barbados particularly, because breastfeeding - which is the World Health Organization's primary recommendation for nourishing children at least for the first six months of life - has been a central focus as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital aimed to achieve the Baby-Friendly designation."

Thompson also addressed the socioeconomic disparities between many women which results in some not being able to provide their newborns with the breastmilk they need in the first six months of life.

"There is a multitude of issues around breastfeeding - some that are social, political, class-based, race-based and include - several factors multiply the effects. For one, maternity leave is sometimes only six weeks, in which case mothers with lower incomes who can't afford to take additional unpaid leave feel they have limited options as to 'returning to work' feeding. They feel like the formula is the only way and it might not be worth it to establish a good breastfeeding rhythm just to presumably need to stop in six weeks."

Drawing from her experience, Thompson lamented that nonwhite women, with lower socioeconomic statuses, are those who are usually unable to meet the six-month standard:

"I have nannied and have taught in daycare centers in the states, oftentimes amongst white and/or affluent women who feel very confident and capable of providing breast milk to their children even after returning to work. That kind of comfort and confidence is less so in communities of color."

While being aware of the challenges that create this reality for many women, she warned mothers of the disadvantage to their children when they are not breastfed for the stipulated period. Furthermore, speaking of studies which highlighted  the psychological impact such as performance at school, Thompson also emphasised the dangers to physical health:

"Children who are formula-fed also have an increased risk of obesity for the simple fact that their bodies are predisposed to the need for a greater volume from the beginning. For example, in my experience, a typical formula bottle is eight ounces for a six-month-old, whereas the same nutrients and satiety would come from five ounces or less bottle of breast milk."

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