Breastfeeding groups petition Health Canada
January 31, 2011
SPECIAL TO THE STAR
Danielle Arnold-McKenny, a mom of five and breastfeeding advocate, was shocked to discover that Health Canada was allowing less than a month for members of the public to comment on its new draft version of Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: the document that establishes breastfeeding policy in this country.
“That meant that any breastfeeding groups that met monthly would not have enough time to read, review, and submit their comments on the draft. And there would be very little time to organize a group to review the draft in depth,” she says.
“Consultation is meaningless if there is no time to respond,” adds Jodine Chase, a member of the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton.
That is why Chase, Arnold-McKenny, and others are petitioning the government ( http://www.gopetition.com/petition/42101.html) to extend the time available for members of the public to comment on Health Canada’s website. Originally slated to wrap up Feb. 3 after beginning Jan. 6, the group wants the deadline extended to April 15th and public meetings on the guidelines added to the process.
The fact that Arnold-McKenny and Chase even learned about the review process was sheer good luck. Another member of the online breastfeeding community happened to stumble on the right page of the Health Canada website at the right time (go to parentcentral.ca for a link to the page where you can comment), alerting her and others to the call for comments and the very tight deadline. If that hadn’t happened, Arnold-McKenny says, “the document might have passed with all its flaws.”
Getting a handle on everything that has changed and what those changes are for Canadian mothers and babies is the key challenge facing Canada’s breastfeeding community. The guidelines, which were massive to begin with, have been rewritten. And their scope has changed: instead of covering nutrition from birth to 24 months, they now zero in on just infant nutrition issues from birth to 6 months.
Trying to compare the two documents is a bit like comparing a cantaloupe to an orange.
What’s missing from the documents appears to be more significant than what the documents actually contain.
Kelly P. Matijcio, a lactation consultant and early infancy parenting specialist, objects to the fact that a large portion of the document focuses on formula feeding, something that creates the impression that breastfeeding and formula feeding are interchangeable. “We should be talking about the risks of artificial feeding and infant formula and treating those methods of feeding as a separate intervention that is only considered when medically indicated. Breastfeeding is the biggest single factor that can affect a baby’s health.”
Elizabeth Sterken, National Director of INFACT (Infant Feeding Action Coalition) [Canada], a national non-governmental organization that focuses on breastfeeding, feels that the process of developing these guidelines was compromised because researchers with ties to the infant formula industry were allowed to participate.
“How we feed our infants is critical for their optimal health, growth and development, including brain development and emotional well-being. The interests of the infant formula manufacturers should not compromise this lifelong effect. Profit interests have no place in the setting of public policy and recommendations on infant feeding and threaten to put mother and child health at risk.”
Matijcio adds that the draft guidelines overlook nonfeeding aspects of breastfeeding and what it takes to get breastfeeding relationships off to an optimal start, and what mothers and babies miss out on when a baby is not breastfed: “A mother needs to know that when she stops breastfeeding, she loses the impact of mothering hormones. And that her baby’s risk of overfeeding, childhood obesity and diabetes increase. You can’t make an informed decision about not breastfeeding if you have no understanding of what is being lost.”
Teresa Pitman, author of numerous books about breastfeeding, including the recently updated The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, agrees that the scope of the guidelines should be expanded to address milk sharing and milk banks, “currently a hot topic and one worth addressing.”
She also says the document should be aligned with all aspects of the World Health Organization Code, which governs the marketing of formula.
“The report suggests that the WHO code be implemented in hospitals, but that’s only a small portion of the WHO Code’s scope. It should be implemented in all areas, so that formula is not advertised to the public.”
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting.