Breastfeeding gives babies the best start

Breastfeeding Week kicks off today, with a celebration at the Vernon library on Thursday and a 'latch-on' event at the hospital on Saturday

Lynne Reside

Special to The Morning Star

The North Okanagan Early Years Coalition and the Breastfeeding Week Committee, consisting of members from Interior Health, the Pregnancy Outreach Program, and local doulas,  are partnering with  the Vernon library to raise awareness about the importance of breastfeeding for healthy child development.

A number of events are planned to celebrate Breastfeeding Week  including a  Baby-Wearing Fashion Show on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. in the multipurpose room at the Vernon library with opportunities to network, share stories, and promote mother-to-mother support in conjunction with this year’s theme: “Close to Mother.” There will be door prizes and snacks provided.

On Oct. 5, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. in Polson Tower, Level 2 foyer, the Vernon Jubilee Hospital will hold a “Latch-on” at the hospital to aim for the Quintessence world record for the most breastfeeding babies latching on at the same time. “Latch and count” will happen at 11 a.m.

Breastfeeding is an important component of healthy early childhood development for a number of reasons. All mammals produce milk that provides their offspring with protective factors to prevent disease, curative factors to recover from disease, essential growth factors for normal development of the brain and body and state regulation (respiration, heart rate, blood pressure and emotional comfort). The nutritional value of all mammalian milks have been shaped by the specific needs of each species. Human breast  milk meets the specific needs of humans as large-bodied, large-brained, slow growing primates. Human breast milk provides the baby with a high level of antibodies to fight infection and the content of the milk adapts as the infant or toddler’s needs change.

Breastfeeding not only protects infants, it also has protective factors for the mother in helping the mother’s body adjust after the impact of pregnancy and childbirth and produces the “love” hormone oxytocin to promote attachment and bonding. Healthy attachment and bonding provide the critical foundation for all other areas of healthy development.

Initiating breastfeeding is not always easy and in western society it is not always well-supported. The theme of Close to Mother supports the concept of peer counselling and mothers supporting each other through the breastfeeding years. By helping mothers to feel comfortable and supported to breastfeed their babies in all areas whether it is at home, working, shopping or participating in all of the daily activities of modern life, our communities can encourage and promote this key factor in ensuring healthy early childhood development.

We interviewed new mom Amy Doylend about her experiences with breastfeeding. She considers herself to be an informed mother who knew about the importance of breastfeeding and about early childhood development, particularly as she has worked in the early childhood field. When her baby was born prematurely, she was faced with a very different scenario from what she had expected: prolonged hospitalization, low birth weight and a baby that tired easily. With a great deal of support from health care staff, her partner, her family and a number of friends with breastfeeding experience she was able to carry out a plan that enabled her to initiate and continue breastfeeding with supplementation to help the baby’s low weight. Many hours in the hospital, hours of pumping, breastfeeding, and bottle feeding, and lack of sleep were made easier by the support she received which enabled her to establish and continue breastfeeding under very challenging circumstances.

The North Okanagan Early Years Coalition has a commitment to supporting early learning, social competence, emotional maturity and physical health and well-being through a variety of community awareness initiatives and direct program opportunities in the communities of the North Okanagan. Promoting breastfeeding and the support of nursing mothers is one of the earliest and best ways that we can promote healthy brain development and overall health and well-being. Ninety per cent of a child’s brain develops in those early years and infants and toddlers need well-nourished brains to ensure that they have the foundation needed for ongoing healthy development on their journey to a healthy and productive adulthood.

Lynne Reside is  Early Years Community Development Coordinator, North Okanagan Early Years Coalition.