Lack of sup­port for breast­feed­ing moms after Fort McMur­ray fire, study

Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia study sur­veyed women with in­fants after they evac­u­ated to Ed­mon­ton

StarMetro Edmonton - - EDMONTON - KEVIN MAIMANN

Al­berta evac­u­a­tion strate­gies should make more room for moth­ers to feed their ba­bies, ac­cord­ing to a new study that fol­lowed Fort McMur­ray wild­fire evac­uees.

In the first study of its kind, led by the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia, re­searchers sur­veyed par­ents with in­fants rang­ing from new­borns to 3-year-olds about their feed­ing habits when they were tem­po­rar­ily housed among thou­sands of evac­uees at North­lands in Ed­mon­ton in 2016.

The study found the num­ber of women ex­clu­sively breast­feed­ing dropped from 64 per cent be­fore the fires to 36 per cent when they were in the evac­u­a­tion cen­tre.

Some women said they strug­gled to breast­feed or pump milk due to stress. Oth­ers, how­ever, re­ported prob­lems that could have been mit­i­gated with bet­ter ac­com­mo­da­tions, ac­cord­ing to study co-au­thor Jo­dine Chase with Royal Roads Univer­sity and Safe­lyFed Canada.

“It would be quite easy to put in place in our emer­gency plans, just a few ex­tra steps, to set up spaces to help fam­i­lies care for chil­dren and to make sure that they have equip­ment for safe in­fant feed­ing in emer­gency shel­ters,” Chase said.

Know­ing Fort McMur­ray had a high birth rate and a lot of young chil­dren would ar­rive at North­lands, Chase joined a coali­tion of breast­feed­ing groups to form an ad hoc re­sponse to pro­vide sup­ports, con­nect­ing with mid­wives, breast­feed­ing clin­ics and the Grey Nuns hospi­tal.

She sur­veyed sev­eral hun­dred women on site.

She said some told her they could not find com­fort­able places to feed in the dor­mi­toFu­ture

ry-style quar­ters, while women who were mixed feed­ing their chil­dren re­sorted to more for­mula feed­ing be­cause they were stand­ing in so many long line­ups to reg­is­ter and get help.

Many also said be­ing phys­i­cally far away from their physi­cians or lac­ta­tion spe­cial­ists made it hard to ac­cess breast­feed­ing sup­port.

“We saw in our re­search that fam­i­lies who were breast­feed­ing re­ported that it helped them pro­vide com­fort and sup­port for their fam­i­lies. And we know that the men­tal health of fam­i­lies who evac­u­ate can be im­pacted by the dis­as­ter and by an evac­u­a­tion,” Chase said.

She hopes to see Al­berta add a pol­icy for in­fant feed­ing guid­ance into its Emer­gency Act.

Cor­rec­tion - Au­gust 2, 2018: This ar­ti­cle was up­dated from a pre­vi­ous ver­sion that mis­stated the year the study par­tic­i­pants were tem­po­rar­ily at North­lands in Ed­mon­ton. In fact, it was in 2016, not 2015. Lack of san­i­tized bot­tles is a prob­lem dur­ing dis­as­ters. Full de­tails at th­es­tar.com/ed­mon­ton

FRANSON/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS JASON

Re­searchers say fu­ture evac­u­a­tion plans should in­clude bet­ter ac­com­mo­da­tions for breast­feed­ing par­ents.

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