Lack of support for breastfeeding moms after Fort McMurray fire, study
University of Georgia study surveyed women with infants after they evacuated to Edmonton
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
Researchers say future evacuation plans should include better accommodations for breastfeeding parents.