Breastfeeding seminars

Breastfeeding classes at St. Michael’s to help parents during pandemic

Camille Valente

One Tuesday a month, after a long shift at the family birthing unit at St. Michael’s Hospital, Camila Valente spends her evening teaching expectant families how to breastfeed.

The lactation consultant has been leading the class on Zoom for six months, educating expectant mothers on what to expect when they start feeding their infants. The course aims to familiarize parents with breastfeeding and give them the confidence to care for their children.

“Providing preventative care and information to surrounding parents is the way forward when we try to protect and increase breastfeeding rates,” says Valente. Breastfeeding prevents many health complications for parents and children, she says.

Ninety-one percent of parents in Ontario begin breastfeeding after the birth of their children, but the rate of exclusive breastfeeding – feeding infants only breastmilk and no formula supplements – drops dramatically after six months.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Valente says she realized she had to make up for the lack of breastfeeding support available in the community.

Camila Valente, left, is a lactation consultant at St. Michael’s Hospital who developed the virtual prenatal breastfeeding course. She and clinical manager Amanda Hignell, right, noticed a lack of community breastfeeding resources during the pandemic.

Access to breastfeeding support was dire, especially since Toronto Public Health had to abruptly shut down its home nursing support service and breastfeeding clinics at the start of the pandemic, Amanda Hignell recalls, clinical manager of the women’s and children’s health outpatient clinics in St. Micaël.

Families struggling with breastfeeding should turn to private lactation consultants — if they could afford it, she says.

“Having a baby anytime is very expensive, but we know the pandemic has hit families very hard financially,” Hignell says. With a continued global shortage of formula, the course also helps families save money on formula.

Valente says the pandemic has widened pre-existing inequalities in breastfeeding, due to a lack of services, support and information.

“What we’re trying to do is really bridge the gap,” she says.

“Camila is just one person when she sees people in person. In eight hours, she can only see a lot of families,” Hignell says. “While she can see a whole bunch of others in a class before birth to try to set them up for success.”

The two-hour course offers practical knowledge, such as identifying how and when to feed the baby, as well as positioning and assessing feeding quality. Valente also addresses key challenges parents face, such as nipple pain, difficulty latching on, and perceived low milk supply – one of the main reasons families are starting to use formula.

“For some parents who are unfamiliar with breastfeeding initiation, when the baby is born and they don’t actually see the milk, or leak or spray in the room, like I joke with my patients, they feel like they’re failing,” says Valente.

Difficulty breastfeeding has a major impact on parents’ mental health due to feelings of guilt or shame, Hignell says.

“If we can help people by preventing certain things that we know could potentially trigger postpartum depression, we’re setting up families all the more to be successful.”

Another benefit of the course is that it helps patients learn how to solve problems on their own, especially since nursing shortages often prevent nurses from focusing on non-acute emergencies, Hignell says. Nurses often provide after-hours support when lactation consultants are not present.

Valente says that so far all the classes she has organized have been sold out. She hopes to be able to attend classes more frequently and with larger classes.

The class translated knowledge effectively and families are well educated virtually, Valente says.

“I have also had the pleasure of working with some of the families in the unit and the difference is evident. »

She says she has noticed that informed families know the behavior of the newborn and know what to expect. Unless an emergency occurs, she says, everything is fine.

“It’s really transformative when you see this family develop self-efficacy and achieve their own infant feeding goals,” she says. “I hope we can reach as many families as possible and on a larger scale and hopefully increase breastfeeding initiation rates in Ontario.

If you or someone you know is interested in taking this course, you can register here.

By: Talar Baboudjian Stockton