The Public Health Department is commemorating Breastfeeding Awareness Week from 1-7 August.
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action promotes nursing all year long, with one week devoted to a worldwide coordinated, themed effort to raise awareness.
This year’s campaign will focus on the importance of breastfeeding babies beyond their first six months and continuing to nurse, while introducing complementary foods, until the child is at least two years old.
Annie Mae Roffey, Breastfeeding Coordinator for the Cayman Islands Hospital, works throughout the year to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies.
‘The feeling is that 98 to 99 per cent of mothers initiate breastfeeding but don’t continue,’ she said.
In addition to the pressure of working moms getting back to the office, family members aren’t always supportive, Ms Roffey said.
‘By six weeks, I would say that at least 50 per cent of mothers are not exclusively breastfeeding. But even at two weeks a lot of women are not exclusively breastfeeding – they are using formula as well,’ she said.
Ms Roffey has found that different generations have various opinions on the value of breastfeeding.
‘Some family members may feel that since they didn’t breastfeed their babies and there was nothing wrong with them, that the new mother doesn’t need to breastfeed,’ she said.
Keeping families informed of the benefits of nursing is one solution, but Ms Roffey would also like to see more businesses offer what she calls nursing rooms, where women who return to work can express milk to breastfeed their babies.
The Women’s Resource Centre has two such rooms set up, enabling women to eat lunch and use breast pumps.
‘Most working moms go back to work after six weeks. If they can’t express milk, they have to give up breastfeeding,’ Ms Roffey added.
Longer maternity leave and flexible working hours are two initiatives that have been successful overseas. ‘It would be great if that could happen here,’ she said.
Various support services are available to help nursing mothers, she explained.
‘The support is available, if people will reach out to it,’ she said.
Trained lactation consultants can help deal with any breastfeeding concerns. Midwives go on post-natal visits to check on the new moms.
Women can also ask for help when they attend the six-week follow-up visits at the child health clinics. In addition, a network of volunteers runs a breastfeeding support group, which comprises mothers and health professionals.
Education of all those involved is very important as well, Ms Roffey said.
‘Encouraging women to breastfeed is a continuous challenge, but I am always optimistic due to the many benefits of breastfeeding,’ she said.
To promote the benefits of breastfeeding exclusively for six months, the PHD has arranged a variety of activities, including radio and television interviews with health professionals and the re-launch of the monthly Mother-to-Mother support meetings.
Throughout the year, health-care staff can attend education sessions for updates on breastfeeding and the hospital’s nursing policy. Expectant parents also have access to informational meetings.
The benefits of breastfeeding can reach beyond the babies who are nursed.
Christine Sanders, Education and Office Manager at the Cayman Islands Cancer Society, explained that breastfeeding may reduce the risks of several forms of cancer.
‘Studies show that there may be some protective factor from breastfeeding in reducing the risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer,’ she said.
Ms Sanders added that the most likely reason for this benefit is that breastfeeding helps to limit a woman’s menstrual cycles.
‘The more cycles you have the greater the risk of developing these types of cancer,’ she said.
Ms Sanders cautioned, however, that women need to breastfeed for at least a year to reap any of these possible health benefits.