By Wendy Elliott
A group of young mothers in eastern Kings County are petitioning Annapolis Valley Health to re-evaluate the closure of the Baby Café program.
Kate Dalton, who launched the online petition, says Baby Café was a low-cost and successful breastfeeding support group, where parents could get nursing or baby care questions answered by a public health nurse.
She believes that mother-to-mother support is a wonderful thing, but it is not the same as a public health presence in the community, especially in a community where many mothers do not have access to a family doctor or family support.
According to Dalton, the decision to cancel was announced in April without public input.
Roughly 130 people have signed the petition. One Kentville mother called the support provided at Baby Café invaluable.
“The opportunity to meet and chat with new moms in a supportive environment is second only to the non-judgmental consultation with the public health nurse.”
Provincial health department spokesman Tony Kiritsis said Baby Café was a district-specific program.
Fearing more cancellations
Hillary Marentette of Halifax, who has been involved with birthing and breastfeeding for many years as a pre-natal educator and a doula, questions the cancellation - and fears there may be more.
“It is not congruen, when you have a campaign to increase healthy eating and withdraw support,” she said. In 2012, the province launched the Thrive program, with a strong focus on nutrition and improving health.
“The resources on the ground are evaporating,” Marentette said. “I’m very concerned and there was no consultation with families.”
As a member of the Breastfeeding Community of Practice and co-chair of the Make Breastfeeding Your Business committee, she said that while peer-to-peer advice is effective, public health nurses are often lactation consultants and can offer help at a high level.
Marentette believes that pre-natal classes are also on the chopping block.
“That’s definitely in the works,” she said, adding that the Healthy Beginnings/Capital Health hot line has also been cut.
“This is such a backward move and we know that breast feeding rates here are pretty meager.”
Midwife Louise MacDonald, who lives outside Wolfville, is also concerned about losing public health programming. She understands the need for home visits, but fears the loss of resources.
"Especially for women with complications," she said. "They need more community support."
MacDonald, who has delivered close to 400 babies, said she is still upset about the loss of the Baby Café.
"It's been such a pillar, an amazing breastfeeding resource. There's a Canadian trend toward disengagement. They seem to think you can get advice from computers, but there are people without computer access."
Back in June, Annapolis Valley Health announced the start of a volunteer-led Kings County Breastfeeding Peer Support Group in New Minas.
This group is be facilitated by volunteers who are working to become La Leche League Leaders, with the support of Annapolis Valley Health public health staff, according to Catherine Hebb, public health leader.
She said the health authority was excited to partner with community volunteers, as “we know there is high interest in the community and that there is great value in providing opportunity for mothers to gather and share breastfeeding experiences.”
Carrie Clem is a La Leche Leaque leader in Berwick, where she facilitates a new group meeting there on a monthly basis.
She says women who are interested in breastfeeding are welcome to attend meetings or call for advice. All La Leche League Canada leaders are volunteers.
Clem has been one of the four leaders at the New Minas group and says between six and 12 moms have been attending. She says that new mothers receive excellent support in the hospital, but “things can get challenging when you get home.”
Poor rates in N.S.
According to RN and lactation consultant Nancy Harmon, the breastfeeding rate in Nova Scotia is the lowest in Canada, with a 70 per cent initiation rate and only 12.4 per cent of women continuing to exclusively breastfeed at six months.
In 2009-2010, the national rate for breastfeeding initiation was 87 per cent. The national rate of exclusive breastfeeding at six months remains at 26 per cent, as detailed by a Canadian Community Health Survey.
In 2011, with emerging health issues such as childhood obesity, early onset diabetes and rising health care costs, Health Canada concluded the, promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding had become even more critical as research explores relationships between breastfeeding and the onset of disease.
Cancellation enables home visits
Annapolis Valley Heath indicated public health staffing had ceased for Baby Café due to the need to allocate more resources to the Enhanced Home Visiting program.
“It was a tough decision to make with regards to the Baby Café, but it allowed us to help address a high demand for another program,” said Hebb. “As we have been developing this great partnership with community volunteers, we knew we had the opportunity to continue our breastfeeding support in this way.”
The peer support group runs every Thursday from 10 a.m.–noon at the Louis Millet Recreation Centre. It continues until Aug. 29, at which time the program will be evaluated.
Plans for additional groups throughout the Valley are underway. Funding for this work is supported by a Thrive grant.
Hebb also points out that there are many ways that breastfeeding mothers can receive support. “Breastfeeding moms are encouraged to talk to their primary health care providers, and lactation consultants at the hospital. 811 can also be a support,” she said. “We want to be there for mothers and families – supporting breastfeeding is important to us and we’re proud continue this work in the community.”
La Leche League contact: