Health experts are stressing the importance of exclusive breastfeeding in Antigua and Barbuda.
The point was made at a workshop held at Mount St. John’s Medical Center last Friday.
Chairperson of the Breastfeeding Committee, Samantha Moitt, said that the Breastfeeding Committee is responsible for protecting, supporting and promoting breastfeeding.
She said that the theme this year is, “Sustaining Breastfeeding Together.”
“It reminds us that to be successful in our breastfeeding community, we all have to play a part and that part extends beyond the healthcare realm,” Ms. Moitt declared.
The workshop attracted a host of health care workers including doctors, nurses, administrators along with representatives from the Medical Benefits Scheme and Early Childhood Education which has responsibility for daycare centers as well.
Moitt further stressed that the role of the churches, schools and employers are also crucial to the ongoing success of breastfeeding in Antigua and Barbuda.
“Breastfeeding is everybody’s business and this is why we need to come together and support it since everyone has a role in protecting breastfeeding.”
She said this year’s focus is on the working mom.
“We want to ensure that mothers who are returning to work feel confident enough to continue to supply breast milk even though they are not physically with their babies. We want to ensure that working moms are convinced that there is a way to exclusively breastfeed and at the same time be supported by the community to include their employers, their family, the daycare and their health care providers.”
Moitt said that the good turn-out at the educational session was a way to ensure that the correct and vital information is going out to mothers.
“We do not want you to regurgitate the information but want you to believe it; we want you at the end of this that if you have questions to be sure to ask them and clear up any common myths surrounding breastfeeding, because we want to empower you so that you can help mothers in the long run,” Moitt encouraged.
She continued, “We selected each of you because of your reach and your interaction with mothers or mothers to be, so let us work together to support breastfeeding.”
During the half-day forum, the participants heard a number of inspiring presentations from four health experts.
Nurse Kesha Willock who works at the Maternity Department at Mount St. John’s Medical Center (MSJMC) said breast milk is the natural first food for babies produced by the women’s breast.
It starts with colostrum which is produced by the seventh month of pregnancy to the first few days after birth. This, according to Nurse Willock, helps to establish good bacteria in the baby’s gut.
She said a breastfeeding mother gives her baby immunity to illness each and every time she nurses.
Juanita James, a public health nutritionist gave a presentation on the International Code on Marketing of breast milk substitutes. She said the aim of this code is about marketing and promotions and not about the use.
She said the aim of the code is to promote safe and adequate nutrition for all infants.
She warned that subtle advertisement of breast milk substitutes may be lost in certain goodwill programmes so managers and heads of departments must to mindful of this.
“There is a subtle way about how advertising is done, so it’s not just if they bring on a commercial on TV or they hand out flyers or stuff like that. But if they give you a calendar for your clinic to go up on your wall and on the bottom of the calendar there is a teddy bear with nestle on it or they give you a weight conversion chart that has kilograms and pounds and in the corner is that teddy bear with nestle written on it, that’s adverting too,” James noted.
Nurse Juliett Michael, who is also a lecturer at the School of Nursing, covered ten critical steps which can promote continued breastfeeding among working moms.
She said as exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for six (6) months and continuing with the additional foods for (two) 2 years, there must be strategies in place to do so.
Nurse Michael urged mothers to speak with their employers before they return to work about the need for a private space to express milk.
“We have to realize the value of breastfeeding in the whole infant feeding schedule and we have to sell it,” Nurse Michael reminded.
She said starting to educate mothers about the importance of breastfeeding should begin during pregnancy as it takes a lot for the mothers to go back out to work and breastfeed.
Mothers are also being encouraged to breastfeed during mornings, evenings, weekends and lunch hour if possible.
Avis Jonas, the dietician at MSJMC, discussed the many myths associated with breastfeeding
One such reference was that if the mother has to go back to school or work, she should not start breastfeeding. But she said working moms can express their breast milk to ensure that their baby has breast milk at feeding times.
Another is that breastfeeding mothers have to eat more in order to make enough milk.
But she said women on very low-calorie diets usually make enough milk as the body produces breast milk whether or not the woman eats.
She further dismissed other myths such as women with flat or inverted nipples cannot breastfeed.
The size or the shape of the nipple, according to Jonas, does not affect breastfeeding because the baby should not be attached to the nipple but the areola portion, which is the area around the nipple.
She also shared that breastfeeding does not make breasts sag.
Nurse Valarie Williams a Breastfeeding Committee member, before giving the vote of thanks, encouraged health care providers and early childhood educators to keep the conversation going so that everyone can be on the same page in disseminating information to clients.
Chairperson Moitt expressed gratitude to the committee for a job well done and reminded them that the work in reaching the public is not just an annual affair.