A prominent breastfeeding expert was invited by a Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) committee to visit the Sunshine Coast, as part of an effort to get Coast health care facilities certified through the World Health Organization’s Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI).
Jack Newman, a Toronto-based physician who founded the International Breastfeeding Centre, has authored several books about breastfeeding and who concocted a widely used all-purpose nipple ointment, gave two public talks as well as professional education sessions for health care workers on March 6 and 7.
Newman was invited by VCH’s Lower Sunshine Coast Baby Friendly Initiative Committee, which has been working to achieve BFI status for the public health units in Gibsons and Sechelt as well as Sechelt Hospital.
The Baby Friendly Initiative was launched in 1991 by the World Health Organization, with the goal of implementing practices “that protect, promote and support breastfeeding,” according to its website. Newman has also served as a consultant for BFI.
To achieve status, the hospital and health care units would have to accomplish and maintain 10 stringent criteria. It’s a high bar – only B.C. Women’s Hospital and the Chilliwack Public Health Unit have achieved BFI status in B.C.
“It’s hard to get because it requires a lot of collaboration and education,” said Sandra Grant, a public nurse who chairs the Sunshine Coast BFI committee and organized Newman’s visit. She doesn’t have a timeline yet for when they will undergo the application process – a costly endeavour requiring independent evaluators.
She called Newman’s visit “one in a series of initiatives” the committee will undertake as it seeks status.
In particular she invited Newman to help the committee “build some momentum,” adding that health care professionals generally understand the importance of breastfeeding, but inviting a well-known expert gives them an opportunity to prioritize their education.
Approximately 85 physicians, nurses, midwives, doulas and other professionals from as far as Vancouver Island and Pemberton attended the sessions to network and learn about the technical aspects of breastfeeding and new research in the field.
Among them was Cayla Politylo, a public health nurse from Powell River, who said her team considers Newman a “breastfeeding guru.”
Melanie Lamden, a doula based in Powell River, uses his books and highlighted an issue raised by Politylo and Grant – while breastfeeding may be considered a natural process, for many new parents it is not.
Lamden said in her practice, breastfeeding is “the most common post partum difficulty,” primarily due to a lack of support and resources, which makes it difficult for new parents to stick with it if they encounter problems.
“Breastfeeding is such an art,” said Grant. “You do need people who can support a mom through the obstacles that may come and the unexpected things that can occur over the long term, too.”
Grant said the committee takes a trauma-informed approach and supports parents whatever their decision is, even if that includes formula, which she described as “the next best to breast milk.”
“With support a lot of moms will breastfeed. Not only does it eliminate the cost of formula but the health benefits from breastfeeding are so numerous,” Grant said. “It’s like a magic bullet.”
Newman’s message to new parents at his public talks was simple.
“Breastfeeding should work most of the time and if it doesn’t it’s because we mess it up,” he said.
“If you’re having trouble with breastfeeding, get good help early, don’t wait.”