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Moms, babies turn out to boost breastfeeding

Practice promoted at legislature event

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This year's breastfeeding challenge drew 54 mothers to the legislature's rotunda Saturday morning to give their little ones breakfast the natural way.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

This year's breastfeeding challenge drew 54 mothers to the legislature's rotunda Saturday morning to give their little ones breakfast the natural way. Photo Store

It seems like such an obvious relationship between mother and child that one wonders why it needs mentioning.

But the silence surrounding that connection is a big part of the reason a group of mothers and their children, plus a handful of supportive male partners, assembled in the rotunda of the Manitoba legislature to participate in the annual breastfeeding challenge Saturday morning.

"I've never been in a room with this many people who are breastfeeding at the same time," a hesitant Jen Magoon said, clutching her daughters Alexandria, 3, and Layla, 1, before the event got underway. "This is a new one for me."

The gathering on Broadway, organized by the Winnipeg Breastfeeding Support Network and Quintessence Foundation, drew 54 mothers, slightly up from last year's total.

Established in 1998 by a group of concerned mothers and other citizens in British Columbia who grew disenchanted with the lack of breastfeeding information by health organizations, the Quintessence Foundation started with the goal of providing "breastfeeding education to health professionals and the public."

Now, 15 years later, the organization has a global outreach, extolling the health and social benefits of breastfeeding through events such as Saturday's breastfeeding challenge.

Events similar to the one at the legislature were held at 210 sites in nine countries. Numbers were being tabulated throughout the day Saturday, but organizers hoped they would meet last year's total of nearly 4,000 children breastfeeding from their mothers.

This newborn relationship with the mother works on many levels. The emotional ties that develop through breastfeeding -- some consider the closeness between mother and child a further extension of the pregnancy -- are evident. It's nature with nurture, a symbolic protective phase in the relationship brought on through a closeness impossible to understand unless one has experienced it.

There's a practical side to it, too.

"For me, it's an ease of mothering," said Magoon. "You have your kid screaming because she's hungry and you can do something about it in, like, two seconds. It's a way to calm tantrums or help with bumps and bruises. That's pretty helpful."

"The emotional connection is only natural, right? But there's more to it," offered Marusia Kachkowski, chairwoman of the local support network.

"Breastfeeding keeps the baby and the mother in close proximity with one another, and that's something we're really trying to do."

Part of the Quintessence message is to have mothers and their babies together, "skin-to-skin," as Kachkowski puts it, immediately following birth for the first 90 minutes, and nursing on demand, as needed, around the clock after that.

According to Kachkowski, breastfeeding is encouraged exclusively for the first six months. Yet statistics show only one-third of mothers in Canada will follow this timetable to completion.

"It's a still learned process," she said. "Through the 'scientification' of infant care in the 1960s and 1970s when baby-formula companies began to target mothers and smaller communities, the widespread promotion of artificial feeding by health organizations really left a hole in some families.

"Those who still wanted to breastfeed were discouraged to do so. It seems impossible that we, as a society, would get away from this natural connection with our children."

Carolyn Perchuk, a public health nurse with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's population and public health division, encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding through the first two years of the child's life and even beyond.

She advises expectant mothers to get in touch with the various support groups in their communities, as regular social interaction with other moms can help reinforce breastfeeding.

Approximately 88 per cent of new mothers in Manitoba have initiated breastfeeding, Perchuk says, which is slightly higher than the national average of over 80 per cent.

Those numbers need to be higher, Kachkowski says, and the only way they will improve is through reaching out, reconnecting, and re-educating mothers who have seen the practice fall from their own family tree.

"Imagine trying to breastfeed when you're the first one in your family after a few generations simply didn't do it," Kachkowski said, holding her 17-month-old son, Lev. "It's not easy. That's why we're here."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2013 A3

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