Rosalytia Barry knew she wanted to breastfeed her baby, but she didn’t know it could be a challenge.
The first-time mom struggled to feed her daughter, Vivian Barry, for about a week before the two were comfortable with nursing. Before she’d delivered Vivian at the Misericordia Community Hospital on May 5, 2018, Rosalytia and her husband Ian had decided breastfeeding was the healthiest option.
“I just thought it would be easy and it was not easy in the beginning. I didn’t know what I was doing,” says Rosalytia. “The nurses were amazing. If I was struggling, they would come in and ask if I wanted help, if I needed help. They would explain and were hands-on if I needed. They were phenomenal. Now it’s super easy.”
That type of support is part of the Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI), a designation the World Health Organization awarded to the Misericordia Community Hospital. The BFI designation has also been received by the Grey Nuns Community Hospital and Bonnyville Health Centre. Launched in 1991, BFI protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding and formula-feeding families by providing accurate information on infant feeding. Health Canada recommends breastfeeding exclusively for a baby’s first six months, but staff respect whatever feeding option a family chooses, says Michelle Stadler, Clinical Nurse Educator for Women’s and Child Health at the Misericordia hospital.
“We give them the tools and education to make an informed decision about their feeding choices as well as providing breastfeeding or feeding education to support them when they’re in hospital and at home.”
Rosa’s struggle to breastfeed is common, notes Michelle.
“There’s this belief among a lot of women that breastfeeding is natural, therefore it comes naturally. It’s quite a learning curve for moms and babies,” says Michelle.
“I think a lot of new moms are surprised at the challenges of breastfeeding.”
There are many reasons a mom may have challenges, says Jaclyn Saban, Registered Nurse for Women’s and Child Health at the Misericordia hospital.
“A lot of moms do struggle. They’re tired. Their babies are hungry, hungry all the time. They have lots of visitors. There’s lots of hormone changes. They do need a lot of help in those first few days,” she says.
That support can include how to position the baby and get a good latch. There is growing awareness that breastfeeding has numerous benefits including providing long-term protection from illnesses such as diabetes, decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome and faster healing after delivery. It also promotes bonding between mother and baby.
That bonding is also supported by skin-to-skin contact as soon as a baby is born.
In the delivery room, nurses and Rosalytia discussed how her newborn would be laid across her bare chest. That skin-to-skin contact within the first hour of life is part of BFI. It was a powerful moment for Rosalytia.
“She was crying when they gave her to me and then she stopped crying right away. She nestled in. It was great,” recalls Rosalytia. “It was amazing to feel her on my chest. I cried very happy tears.”
Skin-to-skin contact also helps with breastfeeding, says Michelle.
For Rosalytia, it was important she not be separated from her new daughter during their two-day hospital stay. It’s now a common practice to keep newborns and mothers in the same hospital room rather than seeing a baby whisked away to a nursery.
“I preferred her in the room with me. We did skin-to-skin almost my whole hospital visit,” Rosalytia says.
And skin-to-skin isn’t exclusive to moms. A dad holding a baby against his bare chest also benefits newborns.
“We often encourage it with dads because moms are too tired,” says Michelle. “Dads want to be involved in those first moments and hours after a baby is born. But when a mom is breastfeeding they often don’t know what their role is. Skin-to-skin is a great way to encourage dads to be involved.”
Today, Vivian is a joyful baby with a wide smile who still loves having close contact.
“I wear tank tops to bed, and she nestles into my chest. She sleeps a lot better when it’s skin-to-skin instead of when I’m wearing a T-shirt,” says Rosalytia. “When she’s upset, she lays her head on whatever bare skin I have and she’ll lie there for a few seconds. Most of the time she’ll stop crying. She does that with her dad too.”