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Canberra mums choose to extend breastfeeding during COVID

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Some Canberra mums are choosing to prolong breastfeeding or event attempt relactation as they adapt to COVID restrictions and increased opportunities to stay at and work from home.

Canberra Health Services (CHS) has dealt with more than 2,500 calls from pregnant women, new and breastfeeding mums since COVID restrictions were imposed on public health services.

CHS set up a special hotline to provide immediate advice and support to women when the pandemic hit.

Coordinated by Maternal and Child Health Nurse (MACH) and former Trauma Case Manager for the Trauma Service Lisa Farrall, the Early Pregnancy and Parenting Support line was launched in just two days when Canberra Health Services had to cancel most face to face MACH appointments in line with the public health response on 27 March.

“The feedback we have received suggests some mums are choosing to extend their breastfeeding—they’ve taken the decision to stay at home and make it a priority,” said Lisa.

Lisa Farrall.

This service is especially relevant given today is the start of World Breastfeeding Week. In 2020, the theme is ‘support breastfeeding for a healthier planet’.

The phone service—which operates Monday to Friday from 8.30 am–5 pm is now the central contact point for the Canberra community for enquiries and support about pregnancy, early parenting concerns, child and family health and development, physiotherapy and nutrition services.

Lisa said all calls were triaged by MACH nurses who were able to advise on a range of issues.

Of the 2500 calls received, however, 900 were related to maternal and child health with a focus on breastfeeding and sleep issues.

“Some rang in because they want advice on breastfeeding as a health priority because of COVID, and some women had questions relating to recently having ceased breastfeeding and wanting to restart it again.”

Breastfeeding is recognised to strengthen a baby’s immunity as well as being more convenient while socially isolating.

Laura Jean with baby Fletcher.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association published data last fortnight showing 64 per cent of mothers who were surveyed between March and May contacted the service to seek to protect their infants by continuing breastfeeding, increase their milk supply, or restart breastfeeding.

Relactation, in the case where a mother had reduced or stopped breastfeeding, while not an easy journey, was possible, according to Lisa.

“Every woman is different and it depends on a lot of things including when breastfeeding originally ceased, but if there is support for the mother and baby and they can spend enough time together, preferably with skin-to-skin contact, then it can be done.”

Lisa reported high levels of anxiety among new mums during COVID and women were able to access specialised counselling services.

“I can’t imagine how new mums are feeling right now, it is a very isolating time and many are feeling alone and worried about a range of issues.”

The hotline was a way in which new mothers could access support on breastfeeding, from issues including latching on, weight gain and mastitis.

There was no time limit on phone counselling and some women had accessed teleconferencing. There was also the opportunity for short face-to-face appointments including home visits following safety protocols for women who required it.

“We are running new parent groups on-line and doing what we can to reduce isolation for new mothers where possible. We are also incredibly thankful for the technology to be able to do this.”

Where community anxiety levels were already heightened by the pandemic, new mothers were even more susceptible given the pressures and hormonal upheaval relating to a newborn.

The phone service is currently being assessed for potential extension beyond the pandemic.

“We have definitely received a huge volume of calls and the feedback we have received has been really positive—a number of mums said they wished the service had been there when they had their first child.”

You can access the hotline on 5124 1775 Monday to Friday 8.30 am–5 pm.

Those who have called the line and would like to provide feedback on their experience can go here or ring 5124 2553 to provide feedback anonymously by phone.

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