Sunday 19 August, 2018

WEEKEND READ: 6 months breastfeeding backed by Barbados’ public health sector

Breastfeeding only for the first six months of baby’s life is being pushed by doctors and nurses in all polyclinics along with those at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).

“Just breastfeeding, no formula, that’s what we promote at all the government institutions, the hospital and the polyclinics.”

This is what the President of the Barbados Nurses Association, Blondelle Mullin told Loop News.

She said that nurses fully throw their support behind the call for six-month maternity leave for mothers in Barbados as it would create the ideal environment to ensure six months of breastfeeding.

“I am a Public Health Nurse, Community nurse, and we do promote breastfeeding only, exclusive, not even water, just for the first six months of the child’s life…

“So it would be ideal for any mother to have six months to breastfeed a baby,” asserted Mullin.

The call for the extended maternity leave came this week from President and Founder of the Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Foundation (BCNF), Dr. Alison Bernard.

The Employment of Women Act (Maternity) under the Ministry of Labour states, "Maternity leave shall be for a period of not less than twelve weeks" with approximately six weeks being granted to the employee after birth.

However, Dr. Bernard said that according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards, this amount of time is not conducive to the exclusive six months recommended for exclusive breastfeeding.

In agreement with the WHO recommendations, Mullin said that until the maternity leave is extended mothers will continue to introduce formula from early, against their suggestion, because they worry and fear that on their return to work the baby will suffer.

“Usually we tell the mothers to do it but the problem always happens that they would do it for the first month or the first three months while they’re home on maternity leave, but once they go back out to work in the back of their minds they are saying they don’t want to leave and their baby only drinks from the breast because you know some babies once they are breastfeeding you can’t get them to take the bottle or anything from anybody else.

“We do tell them also that they can express the milk into bottles or express it and feed it with a spoon so that they baby can still be getting the breast milk rather than formula feed whether from a bottle or some other means.”

Acknowledging that the fear is real, Mullin said that for some babies “once they get the nipple, the nipple is the nipple, and even though they have these bottles that are supposed to imitate the breasts they can never replace the breasts, so some people are scared that when they go out to work they baby would want them so much that they would suffer, so they try to still push the other formula so that when they go back out to work.”

Therefore she tossed her hat into the ring in support of the call for more maternity leave for mothers saying, “If you get six months of maternity leave then you know you have six months to breastfeed the child. So it would be ideal to have the six months rather than the three months and I know some cases only get six weeks. The government workers would get three months but other private sector people only get six weeks.”

In terms of the benefits to baby and mother, she added that before employers scoff at the idea or reject it outright they should reflect and research.

Mullin said that for example, the longer the mother breastfeeds the stronger the bond between mother and child. It’s economical and breast milk has in all the right nutrients for the growing baby.

For the mother, she added, that they call childbirth 'labour' and “labour is really labour. You need that time to recuperate she too, especially if she had a C-section, she needs that time for her body to heal. Six months would be ideal!”

Lauding the proposal, Mullin said that she is pleased with the new development being observed at the polyclinics across the island at present.

She said that the move would be timely because, “Recently we had a lot of parents that are very receptive to breastfeeding exclusively. I think it is only the mothers that probably have grandparents, older grandparents home who would say that the child ain’t getting enough. But they have a lot of modern-day mothers who have better thinking and they are responding the breastfeeding only. They are trying it. Recently we have a lot of people trying it and sticking to it.

“We are really impressed that a lot of young people are sticking to breastfeeding for four to six months.”

Now that the lone primary acute care medical facility, Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) “is back to baby-friendly”, she asserted that the hospital “must push breastfeeding, therefore they don’t use formula at all, and we don’t recommend formula.”

The CEO for the QEH, Dr. Dexter James told Loop that he cannot speak to extending the maternity leave, but he reiterated that QEH is in support of six months breastfeeding.

He said:

“There is a National Breastfeeding Policy that supports the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative for Barbados and by extension for the recertification of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. For antenatal mothers we do the training and sensitization before delivery and then after delivery the expectation is that mothers will continue to breastfeed their young ones for at least six months.

“We have to support it because it is part of the National Breastfeeding Policy and it is a requirement under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative through PAHO/UNICEF.”

Mullin ended the interview stating that there are very few cases in which nurses would recommend formula in the first six months of a baby’s life, but only in those exceptional cases. 

“Few babies because of issues or the mother may have had a complication and she has to stay in hospital while the baby is discharged, so that baby may get formula, or a baby that was failing to thrive or was born premature, but the normal child that born healthy with no problems, there is no reason why that child can’t breastfeed for the six months.”

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